After illegal trespass onto BLM managed lands by Frank Robbins' cattle in December 2003, The BLM has cancelled the sweetheart settlement which put Robbins above public land grazing regulations.
WWP challenged this unique and quite probably illegal litigation settlement in a federal court lawsuit filed last year in Washington D.C. The WWP lawsuit has assisted the BLM in standing up to continued scofflaw actions by rancher Robbins.
Here is the lead front page story from the Casper Star Tribune:
By JEFF GEARINO
Southwest Wyoming bureau
GREEN RIVER -- The Bureau of Land Management has voided a controversial settlement agreement with Thermopolis-area rancher Harvey Frank Robbins Jr., after Robbins was cited for willful trespass of cattle, officials and attorneys involved in the dispute say.
Conservationists lauded the move, Robbins' attorney criticized it and filed a lawsuit, and BLM officials said they still hope to work with Robbins in the future.
Robbins' attorney, Karen Budd-Falen of Cheyenne, filed a complaint in U.S. District Court on Friday afternoon seeking a preliminary and/or permanent injunction preventing the BLM from voiding the settlement agreement.
"The BLM is completely in error in voiding the settlement agreement and today we filed a lawsuit against the BLM," Budd-Falen said in a short interview." Obviously, we think the notice is frivolous, that's why we filed the suit."
But Western Watersheds Project officials called the decision "good news" for the environment and the grazing allotments.
"It came as quite a surprise considering who the president is ... but it is good news, for the environment and for the rule of law," said WWP Executive Director Jon Marvel.
"The important thing is we think that with the settlement canceled, this (could) result in the cancellation of two of (Robbins') grazing permits ... which would mean effectively he will not be able to graze livestock out there, at least this year," he said.
A spokesman for the BLM's Wyoming State Office said Friday the agency was disappointed that they weren't able to informally settle the trespass allegations against Robbins during negotiations.
"I hope we can still work this out with him," said Marty Griffith, State BLM Chief of Renewable Resources. "My hope is we can continue to work towards a positive future with him. But I don't know where the litigation is going to take us ... that's a whole different issue."
Robbins resides at Hamilton Dome in Hot Springs County and is the owner of the High Island Ranch, the HD Ranch, and the Owl Creek Ranch.
The ranches include a geographically dispersed mixture of private land and BLM-administered land. Robbins holds grazing permits issued by the BLM that allow him to graze livestock on the public land portions of the ranches.
The settlement agreement in question was the result of nine years of lawsuits and counter-lawsuits between Robbins and the BLM's Worland Field Office over Robbins' numerous grazing violations.
During that time, the Worland office issued Robbins approximately 20 individual livestock-grazing, willful and nonwillful trespasses and revoked his grazing permits.
The unusual settlement agreement stayed the nine years of Robbins' grazing violations and dismissed most of the lawsuits and counter-lawsuits between the two parties. Rather than allow the lawsuits to play out, top Department of the Interior officials instructed the Worland office to back off enforcement actions while the settlement was negotiated.
The agreement included provisions that permit the BLM to unilaterally void the agreement -- but only in the event that the BLM formally charges Robbins with either willful trespass or with actions involving resource degradation.
In late December, the Worland office issued Robbins two nonwillful trespass notices regarding livestock trespassing on BLM lands, Griffith said in a phone interview.
The BLM alleged that a total of 28 head of Robbins' cattle trespassed on BLM-administered land for a total of 10 days.
Under the agreement, the BLM requested and held an "informal dispute resolution" with Robbins.
Griffith said neither of the two meetings with Robbins resulted in resolution of the alleged trespassing. As a result, the BLM initiated formal administrative proceedings and issued the proposed decision voiding the agreement Jan. 28.
Budd-Falen said that Robbins was charged with nonwillful rather than willful trespass and the settlement agreement should not be voided. "The BLM's own notice says the alleged violations are for nonwillful trespass ... not an intentional act by Frank Robbins."
But Griffith said it's difficult for the agency to prove willful intent.
"We were trying to go with the best situation we could ... we couldn't prove willful, but in this situation you can't prove nonwillful," he said. "In our attempts to settle this with Frank, we offered nonwillful and he didn't accept it."
No one was sure what effect voiding the agreement, and the filing of Robbins' lawsuit Friday, would have on a previous lawsuit filed last year by two conservation groups seeking to overturn the settlement.
The Western Watersheds Project and American Lands Alliance filed a lawsuit in September alleging unlawful actions by the BLM and failure of the agency to enforce laws governing public lands grazing.
Marvel said the lawsuit "may become moot when this thing is finalized." He said the two groups' attorneys have been involved in settlement negotiations with Department of Justice lawyers in recent months, but have reached no agreement.
Griffith said voiding the settlement agreement did not immediately revoke Robbins' grazing permits.
He said Robbins has 15 days after the decision was issued "to come in and still settle the trespass with us, pay the fees owed BLM, or he can protest it."
Once a protest is begun and Robbins appeals, then he could lose his grazing permits if the appeal is denied. "We're not there yet ... we're still waiting to see if he'll protest and appeal," Griffith said.