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Grazing groups settle, hoping to rebuff FOI access

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  1. Freedom of Information

    NMU         NORTH DAKOTA         Freedom of Information         Sep 15, 2000    

Grazing groups settle, hoping to rebuff FOI access

  • Grasslands grazing associations claim a settlement agreement with the U.S. Forest Service gives them rights to protect information on individual grazing permit holders from the threat of Freedom of Information Act requesters.

McKenzie County and Medora Grazing associations issued bulletins to their members in August stating a settlement reached with the U.S. Forest Service will keep names and other details concerning membership from being divulged to Freedom of Information Act requesters.

The settlement provides for continued access by Forest Service personnel to records of grazing association permit holders, but it gives the associations a chance to “flag” information as not available to non-Forest Service personnel “except in accordance with FOIA.” The agreement gives the associations the right to notice when the records are requested and creates a 30-day period for the groups to object to release of any of the flagged information.

The two groups in August settled a lawsuit to enjoin the agency from cancelling operating contracts. The contracts delegate many of the agency’s permit management responsibilities in the Dakota Prairie Grasslands to the associations.

In January, the Forest Service’s grasslands office in Bismarck issued cancellation notices to the two groups after they refused to give the agency access to their grazing records. The associations feared the records would be divulged under a FOIA request by the National Wildlife Federation.

Contracts between the agency and the associations specified that the agency would have full access to the records. Two other grasslands grazing associations provided records the agency requested and did not join the lawsuit that led to the agreement.

The Medora association told its members it would keep two sets of records, one deleting names, addresses, telephone numbers, social security numbers and monetary amounts. Other records containing “private and confidential records of our permittees and the Grazing Association” would be protected, it said.

The McKenzie group told its members, “Another one of the negative sides is that Congress passed the Freedom of Information Act Law. The Forest Service must comply and they will continue to attempt to comply with agency regulations as they see fit. However, this is balanced by the positive side in that the FOIA documents will be produced and redacted and held under strict guidelines. Further the Grazing Associations will do all the redaction (removal of key information that is personal, private and confidential.)”

(McKenzie County Grazing Association v. Dawson) RD

© 2000 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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