Grazing settlement favors ranchers

  After intensive negotiations, environmentalists, ranchers and the Forest Service settled a lawsuit over cattle grazing on Montana's Beaverhead National Forest. But compared to an earlier agreement, ranchers gained the upper hand. The dispute began when the National Wildlife Federation sued the Forest Service for failing to assess grazing impacts on the forest, streams and wildlife as required by federal law (HCN, 5/15/95). The first proposed settlement gave the agency 10 years to analyze some 130 expiring permits. But ranchers objected to the agreement's hammer: If the Forest Service failed to stick to the timetable, it could not reissue ranchers' permits, and the cows would have to vacate allotments until the work was done. The new settlement requires the agency to reissue permits whether or not environmental analyses are completed. "We would have preferred the earlier agreement because it would have put the burden on the Forest Service to get the job done on time," says National Wildlife Federation attorney Tom France. "Now the burden is on us to push the Forest Service." France says he understood why ranchers didn't want to be at the Forest Service's mercy, but he criticized their attitude at the negotiating table. "The livestock industry continues to view us as completely unreasonable," he says. "They fought us every step of the way. We certainly didn't come through this process as partners." - Paul Larmer