Conservation groups sue U.S. Forest Service for cattle over-grazing in Colville

Fire restrictions announced in the Colville National Forest

SPOKANE, Wash. — The Lands Council, Western Watersheds Project and Kettle Range Conservation Group have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service for allowing “excessive” cattle grazing in the Colville National Forest.

The suit argues that this grazing has led to long-term damage in the forest’s ecosystem.

According to the three agencies, the Forest Service determined in 2019 that up to 70-percent of the cattle grazing land allotted in the Colville National Forest would not actually be able to sustain it.

Despite this, the lawsuit says they “did nothing to curb continued grazing” on that land.

“Ecosystems change every year and evolve due to drought, fire and manmade impacts such as timber harvest and livestock grazing, yet many of the grazing allotments in the Colville have not been evaluated in 50 years,” said Lands Council Wildlife Program Director, Chris Bachman. “We owe it to ourselves, future generations, and the wildlife that calls the forest home to ensure that the Forest Service is following the law in determining best management practices.”

The Colville National Forest has not had a plan for its management since 1988—and this was supposed to be remedied by the 2019 Land Management Plan. However, the agencies argue that the Forest Service broke several environmental laws and failed to regulate cattle grazing.

The Lands Council, Western Watersheds and Kettle Range demand that cattle grazing stop until proper analyses and regulations are done.

“The Forest Service is treating livestock grazing as an inevitable use of the National Forest despite its own assessment that that is not an appropriate use of most of these allotments,” said Western Watersheds’ WA/MT Director, Jocelyn Leroux. “This approach is inconsistent with science and is detrimental to native wildlife and sensitive aquatic ecosystems.”

“I’ve lived and worked in the Kettle River Range for over three decades and can attest to the immense damage done by cattle overgrazing each and every year,” said Kettle Range Director, Timothy Coleman. “Grasses and shrubs are grazed down to bare dirt, streams are fouled, trails are mashed and wetlands are turned into mud holes. It is an abomination that this is allowed to continue on our public lands, and not in keeping with the Forest Service’s public trust responsibility.”

According to the agencies, the breadth of the damage done by over-grazing is far and wide—the rivers contain sensitive and endangered wildlife, including fish and plants, now threatened by expanding grazing sites. Additionally, the agencies say this would slowly limit the recreational activities available.