Cowboy Judge Blows Off Environmental Damage by Cattle on Smiths Fork Allotment

Online Messenger #9

On Tuesday May 15, 2001 Wyoming federal District Court Judge Clarence Brimmer denied motions by the Wyoming Outdoor Council and Western Watersheds Project to issue a temporary restraining order or a preliminary injunction to stop livestock turn-out on the 90,000 acre BLM managed Smiths Fork allotment near Cokeville, Wyoming. In his oral decision issued from the bench, Judge Brimmer created some confusion with contradictory parts of his ruling. The Judge stated that plaintiffs had not exhausted their administrative remedies (presumably at the Department of the Interior's Office of Hearings and Appeals) and, therefore, were not properly before his court, but he also stated that the plaintiffs could come back to his court for further adjudication later in the year if necessary. This confused ruling was not further clarified by the court.

The court hearing, which took a day and a half in Cheyenne, Wyoming was based on a legal requirement of BLM regulations which require the agency to take management action "before the start of the next grazing season" to ensure significant progress will be made when the agency has determined that livestock grazing is a factor in not meeting the Fundamentals of Rangeland Health (43 CFR 4180) and, in this case, the Wyoming BLM Standards and Guidelines for Healthy Rangelands. WWP and WOC through their attorney, Tom Darin argued that not only has the BLM violated the law by permitting livestock turn-out this spring, but that irreparable harm to the environment will result if livestock are not enjoined from the allotment until the BLM authorization is brought into compliance with the law and regulation.

Even though Judge Brimmer was presented with direct testimony and photographic exhibits cataloging the degraded conditions on the allotment (which have declined each year for many years), he denied that turning out cattle would result in "irreparable harm" to the environment, but that such harm would affect ranchers who use the allotment under federal permit!

While Judge Brimmer's decision was not unexpected considering his past judicial history; his ignorance of basic riparian ecology was quite remarkable. When presented with a photo of severely hedged willows, he stated, "What's wrong with that"! He also took seriously rancher claims that the local high school would close down if the TRO were implemented! When presented with an important precedent setting decision regarding the same BLM regulations as in this case from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals won by WWP in Idaho Watersheds Project v. Hahn, Judge Brimmer stated that he could not be bound by any decision from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals whose judges he referred to as "flakes"! Wyoming is in the Tenth Circuit which overturned Judge Brimmer's decision in the PLC v. Babbitt case.

WOC and WWP will be considering further legal action in this case.