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Forest Service uses contract cancellations to encourage openness

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    NMU         NORTH DAKOTA         Freedom of Information         Mar 1, 2000    

Forest Service uses contract cancellations to encourage openness

  • The U.S. Forest Service has given cancellation notices to two associations that administer grazing permits after the organizations resisted requests for their grazing records.

Two grazing associations in late February asked the federal District Court in Bismarck to enjoin the U.S. Forest Service from canceling their contracts to administer federal grazing permits on the Little Missouri National Grasslands.

The Forest Service gave two local associations cancellation notices in January after they refused to allow access to grazing records for fear they would be released under a Freedom of Information Act request.

The National Wildlife Federation had filed an FOI Act request with the Forest Service in November 1998 seeking specific records on grassland grazing uses.

The Forest Service’s Dakota Prairie Grasslands Office in Bismarck then asked local associations, which manage local grazing permit programs under contract with the agency, for access to the records so that it could review them and respond to the request. The Little Missouri and the Horse Creek Cooperative Grazing Associations furnished the information.

However, the McKenzie County and Medora Grazing Associations refused to provide records and removed some from their files. They offered to prepare summaries of withheld information but refused to allow the agency to see all actual records.

They told the agency and later the court that although their contracts provide for agency access to the records, they do not provide for access for the purpose of responding to FOI Act requests. Many records contain “highly personal” information including financial and business transactions between association members and others, they said.

In issuing the notices that contracts would be canceled in six months, the Forest Service said it would not cancel grazing permits, but would manage them itself. Although the Forest Service contracts out the management of most of western North Dakota grazing permits, it manages most grazing permits nationwide without contracts.

(McKenzie County Grazing Association v. Dawson)

© 2000 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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