Ruling in favor of Western Watersheds Project and American Lands Alliance, a U.S. District Court judge in Washington, D.C., has denied a request by renegade Wyoming rancher Frank Robbins to move the venue of a lawsuit against the Bureau of Land Management brought by Western Watersheds Project and American Lands Alliance from Washington to Wyoming.
Readers of the Online Messenger will recall that WWP and the American Lands Alliance sued top political appointees in the Bureau of Land Management, including director Kathleen Clarke and deputy director Francis Cherry, for allowing Robbins to violate federal grazing laws.
The lawsuit targeted a settlement between the BLM and Robbins that is the subject of a separate Inspector General investigation about improper political favoritism by the agency. The action came in the wake of nine years of livestock grazing abuses by Robbins, extensively documented by the BLM's professional staff in its Worland, Wyo., office.
Earlier this year the BLM voided the settlement with Robbins after he was cited for willful trespass of cattle. Robbins' attorney, Karen Budd-Falen of Cheyenne, then filed a complaint in U.S.District Court seeking a preliminary and/or permanent injunction preventing the BLM from voiding the agreement.
In his District Court decision, judge Henry Kennedy ruled that the Robbins case is "national in scope," citing local and national newspaper articles that characterize the case as "a local dispute turned national, in which Interior Department officials in Washington, D.C. imposed a settlement against the will of local BLM officials."
Kennedy further noted that courts in his district have long ruled that a dispute is national "if the plaintiffs challenge the decisions of top federal agencies in Washington, D.C." The judge said the Robbins case has "national implications," agreeing with WWP that "the settlement agreement (brokered by the BLM) will encourage other Western ranchers to try to circumvent local BLM officials and deal directly with Interior Department officials in Washington, D.C."
"Such issues are of national, not merely local, interest," Kennedy concluded.
In a memo written in March 2002, the BLM in Worland, Wyo., noted that "Mr. Robbins has shown a complete disregard for the terms and conditions of the permits and of the authority of the BLM to manage public lands. His conduct was so lacking in reasonableness or responsibility that it became reckless or negligent and placed significant, undue stress/damage on the public land resources."
Robbins, whose family has close ties to Republican Party leaders in Washington, D.C., moved to Thermopolis, Wyo., from northern Alabama to go into the ranching business. He owns three ranches - the High Island Ranch, the HD Ranch and the Owl Creek Land Co. - which are tied to 55,000 acres of BLM land with grazing privileges.
His record with the BLM includes trespass notices, cancellation of grazing permits, charges of unauthorized use of public lands, attempts to block BLM workers from monitoring its own land and defiance of emergency closures to protect the environment during drought.
In 2002, Robbins brokered a deal with top Interior Department officials, including Clarke and Cherry. The settlement, reached in January 2003, halted all BLM action against Robbins even though grazing violations continued.
WWP and ALA are well-represented in this case by WWP attorneys Laird Lucas and Laurie Rule of Advocates For The West ( http://www.advocateswest.org/ ) and Jon Lovvorn of the firm of Meyer and Glitzenstein in Washington, D.C. ( http://www.meyerglitz.com/