It's cows as usual in Oregon

  Last fall, Oregon activists envisioned cattle fenced away from riverbanks, and streams tested for purity after a district court ruled that grazing was polluting water on the state's Forest Service lands (HCN, 10/28/96). It hasn't happened yet. Instead, state officials are scrambling to draw up "emergency" grazing rules so ranchers can turn out their cows as usual this spring.


"I'm not sure where the emergency is," says Bill Marlett, executive director of the Oregon Natural Desert Association. He notes that only about 35 of the state's thousands of grazing permits are up for renewal this year.


To renew a grazing permit under the emergency rules, a rancher must agree to general conditions that protect water quality, explains Roger Wood of the Department of Environmental Quality. The rancher, for example, might have to sign an agreement not to aggravate erosion or destroy streamside vegetation. But nowhere will the rancher have to specify how he will fulfill those promises, Wood says.


Activists fear that the temporary rules, which will be in force for 180 days, could become the model for final compliance with the federal Clean Water Act. Carrie Stilwell, attorney for the Western Environmental Law Center, says the law requires a detailed determination of water quality on the site of each grazing permit.


That won't happen this year. While the state would like to make the regulations more specific, Wood says, "we're not in a position to watchdog every single grazer in the state."


* Danielle Desruisseaux