The Oregon Natural Resources Council, with legal help from the National Wildlife Federation, has thrown 500,000 acres of public grazing land in south-central Oregon into legal limbo.


The Department of Interior Board of Land Appeals overturned a decision by the Bureau of Land Management transferring grazing permits to the new owners of the MC Ranch, near Lakeview, Ore. The ONRC had asked the BLM's Lakeview office to go through a public process before transferring the grazing permits to the MC Beaty Butte Grazing Association. The BLM refused, but now must do so, potentially opening to public review endangered species, wetlands and riparian issues.


In 1991 and 1992, The Nature Conservancy set off a controversy in Oregon when it attempted to buy the huge spread from George Gillett, a junk-bond financier in Vail, Colo., who had come on hard times.


Lakeview-area ranchers reacted strongly, calling for a congressional investigation of the conservancy and labeling it a radical environmental group, even though the conservancy said it would continue to graze the land and would pay property taxes.


In addition to attacking the conservancy, a group of ranchers joined to make a successful bid for the ranch, apparently ending environmentalists' involvement in the property. The successful appeal by ONRC reopens environmentalists' opportunity to influence management of the 500,000 acres of public land associated with the MC Ranch.


The MC Ranch is the subject of Owning It All, by writer Bill Kittredge. The book describes how his family industrialized what was once a natural area.


* Ed Marston