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OHA wins suit for Ochoco elk habitat

A U.S. District Court Judge in Portland on Jan. 3 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.

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 Hunters’ Victory Fund and Wildlife SuperFund, along with major contributions from OHA’s Bend Chapter and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. To support OHA’s Victory Fund and Wildlife SuperFund with a donation, please visit https://oregonhunters.org/donate/

OHA ( https://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.”

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