Conservation Groups Intervene in Lawsuit Challenging Management of National Wildlife Refuge

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Cattlemen's Association and County Government Have Filed Unjustified Lawsuit to Overturn Refuge's Ban on Detrimental Livestock Grazing Impacts

(8/21/2006) - Spokane, Wash. -- Non-profit conservation organizations Friends of Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge and Defenders of Wildlife today moved to intervene in litigation brought by ranching and farm associations, and local government, challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's decision to prohibit annual livestock grazing on the Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge, located in Stevens County, Washington.

"The National Wildlife Refuge System is unique among public lands in placing the needs of wildlife paramount above all other considerations," stated Jamie Rappaport Clark, former Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, now executive vice president of Defenders of Wildlife. "The managers of the Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge have made a carefully-considered, science-based decision that domestic livestock grazing was harming the habitat and wildlife of the refuge, and we want to help defend that decision."

The Little Pend Oreille refuge is a 40,000-acre area of mixed-conifer forests interspersed with lakes, streams, and wetlands that provides habitat for an incredibly diverse array of wildlife, including Canada lynx, bald eagles, moose, mink, white-tailed deer, and more than 200 species of birds.

The Fish and Wildlife Service decided in 2000 to terminate the annual grazing program previously allowed on the refuge after completing a comprehensive planning process and scientific review that concluded that the domestic cattle were adversely affecting the wildlife and fragile wetland and streamside areas. The demand for grazing had steadily declined on the refuge, and only one rancher grazed cattle last year. Still, Stevens County, the Stevens County Cattlemen's Association, Conservation District and Farm Bureau, and the three ranchers holding permits sued in the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Washington to overturn the decision in late May.

"As locals who are dedicated to the protection of this small oasis of protected wildlife habitat, the Friends of Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge support FWS's decision to remove cattle from the refuge,"stated Don Tryon of the organization. "We have unfortunately seen the negative effects of grazing on the streamside and other habitats of the refuge that are critical to its diverse wildlife, and think that the agency deserves to be commended rather than sued for taking action to protect this important area."

Under a comprehensive law governing the National Wildlife Refuge System passed by Congress in 1997, the Fish and Wildlife Service may only allow uses of refuges that are compatible with their wildlife conservation purposes. In a study of grazing practices on the refuge made during its planning process, FWS biologists and other professional resource managers could not identify any positive benefits to the wildlife and habitat of the Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge from the livestock grazing that was previously permitted on the refuge. Accordingly, FWS made the decision in 2000 to terminate the program, while delaying the removal of cattle for five years in order to allow the four ranchers who held permits on the refuge to transition. After the cattle were removed this year, the ranchers brought suit to overturn the ban.

"Unfortunately, the Bush administration has consistently favored politics over science," said Clark. "We are compelled to intervene in this case because the Bush administration has routinely entered into questionable settlements or provided anemic defenses when challenged by industry."

Defenders is represented in its intervention by Rick Eichstaedt of Center for Justice in Spokane, and Brian Segee, Staff Attorney with Defenders in Washington.  

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Defenders of Wildlife is a national, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to the protection of all native wild animals and plants in their natural communities.

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Contact(s):

Don Tryon, Friends of Little Pend Oreille NWR, (509) 684-3683 or (509) 685-9276
William Lutz, Defenders of Wildlife, (202) 772-0269

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