A federal judge has granted a Santa Rosa Island cattle company temporary relief from new federal restrictions on grazing that the company claims would put it out of business.
U.S. District Judge William Rea granted Vail & Vickers a temporary restraining order Wednesday that would prevent the National Park Service from imposing stricter controls on the nearly 100-year-old cattle company before the agency reissues grazing permits for the island.
"The upshot is that the government would be disallowed from making any changes in the terms under which the Vails [Al and Russ Vail] are currently operating on the island," said the Vails' attorney, William Thomas.
The 54,000-acre Santa Rosa Island belongs to Channel Islands National Park. Vail & Vickers sold the island for $30 million in 1986, with the understanding that they would be able to continue ranching until 2011. The only proviso was that their management of the island would have to continue to be environmentally acceptable.
But environmental standards have changed since the Vails sold the island. New data show that Santa Rosa is home to many rare animal and plant species--some of them on the brink of extinction from excessive grazing and trampling by cattle, deer and elk. Furthermore, the cattle have heavily polluted island streams.
To protect the endangered species, clean up the dirty streams, and fend off a legal challenge from an environmental watchdog group, the park service came up with a new grazing plan that Vail & Vickers will have to sign before they can continue ranching.
Under the new park service plan, grazing would be slowly phased out before 2011. For example, four pastures would be closed by 2008. Two would be fenced off in the next two years. In addition, grazing would be gradually lightened in other pastures. The Vails have said the changes would make ranching the island untenable.
Thomas said the temporary restraining order would be good until the judge decides whether to extend a preliminary injunction. That decision would be made in two to three months. Until then, the Vails can continue ranching under current conditions.