Tag Archives: ochoco national forest

‘Great Victory … For Elk And Elk Habitat’: OHA On US Judge’s Ochoco NF Trail Decision

THE FOLLOWING IS AN OREGON HUNTERS ASSOCIATION PRESS RELEASE

A U.S. District Court Judge in Portland today upheld the August findings of a Pendleton Magistrate Judge, siding with the Oregon Hunters Association (OHA) and other groups who filed suit to stop the U.S. Forest Service from building an additional 137 miles of off highway vehicle (OHV) trails in critical elk habitat on the Ochoco National Forest.

(JIM WARD, OHA)

District Judge Marco Hernandez adopted the findings of Magistrate Judge Patricia Sullivan, who on Aug. 27, ruled for OHA on four of the five claims made against the project. Finding that the Forest Service made an “arbitrary and capricious” decision to approve the project, she recommended that the Record of Decision be set aside. The judge’s decision essentially kills the project unless the Forest Service goes back to the drawing board.

OHA, a nonprofit group of more than 10,000 hunters, filed a lawsuit in 2017 challenging the Forest Service’s Record of Decision to implement the project. OHA’s claims that the project violated road density standards in the Ochoco National Forest Plan and didn’t adequately address protection for elk during calving and rutting seasons prevailed.

“It’s a great victory for OHA and for elk and elk habitat on the forest,” said OHA attorney Scott Jerger. “Judge Hernandez adopted and agreed with all of the Magistrate Judge’s rulings on OHA’s legal claims. The project is now officially dead, and the Forest Service must return to the drawing board to address the numerous legal deficiencies in its analysis.”

Jim Akenson, OHA’s conservation director, was pleased with the decision.

“It’s a good day for elk, hunters, and conservation,” said Akenson. “OHA is not opposed to responsible OHV use, we are just opposed to the disturbance and displacement of elk in critical habitat that would move them off public land onto nearby private land, where they would get themselves into trouble. We filed this lawsuit as a last resort.”

The Ochoco Mountains have historically been some of the best habitat for deer and elk in Oregon. Information published on ODFW’s website reveals that hunting contributes more than $14 million to central Oregon’s tourism economy and more than $104 million to the statewide tourism economy on an annual basis.

OHA’s successful suit was funded by OHA’s Hunter’s Victory Fund and Wildlife SuperFund, with major contributions from OHA’s Bend Chapter and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

OHA (oregonhunters.org) is the state’s largest Oregon-based pro-hunting organization, with 10,000 members and 26 chapters statewide. Its mission is “Protecting Oregon’s wildlife, habitat and hunting heritage.”

‘We Fought For Elk, And Won’–OHA On Judge’s Recommendation Against Ochoco OHV Expansion Plan

Unlike the other end of the wildlife spectrum, sportsmen conservationists don’t often go to court, but hunters are heralding a federal judge’s recent preliminary decision against a plan to build 137 miles of new offroad trails in a Central Oregon national forest.

THE OREGON HUNTERS ASSOCIATION AND OREGON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE HAVE BEEN OPPOSED TO THE PROPOSED NEW OFF-HIGHWAY TRAILS THROUGH THE OCHOCO NATIONAL FOREST BECAUSE OF IMPACTS TO ELK HABITAT. DARREN ASHLEY HARVESTED THIS BULL IN THE OCHOCO UNIT A COUPLE SEASONS AGO. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

“We fought for elk, and won,” said Jim Akenson, conservation director for the Oregon Hunters Association, in a press release.

OHA was among several parties that filed a lawsuit to halt a U.S. Forest Service bid to put in the off-highway vehicle trails through critical habitat in the Ochoco National Forest east of Prineville.

They argued that the forest plan violated road density standards and didn’t adequately consider how it would affect calving and rutting elk, according to a press release.

US District Court Magistrate Judge Patricia Sullivan in Pendleton recommended that the Forest Service’s record of decision on the project be set aside.

A local TV report termed it “preliminary” as Sullivan’s ruling must be reviewed by another federal arbiter, Judge Marco Hernandez in Portland, with both sides able to submit more arguments. But according to an attorney quoted by the station, it is rare for magistrate’s decisions to be overturned.

No doubt that OHVs are a good way to get around the woods and haul out big game, but according to a Northwest big game biologist’s 2013 paper summarizing the impacts of roads and traffic on elk, the vehicles cause the most disturbance for the species, leading bulls, cows and calves to react “negatively” to them at distances of even two-thirds of a mile away.

“OHA did everything they could to participate in the Forest Service planning process and raise their concerns about impacts on elk security and habitat,” said OHA Legislative Director Paul Donheffner in a press release. “We filed this lawsuit as a last resort. This was a very good day for OHA, other conservation groups that value the Ochocos, and for elk. Prevailing against the federal government is no easy match. This is a great victory for OHA and our mission.”

The main lawsuit was filed by Central Oregon Land Watch, with OHA filing a companion case. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has also opposed the new trails. We covered the issue in our September 2013 issue.