CLICK HERE to view the legal document filed on the Taylor Grazing Act 5/22/00
A coalition of conservation groups filed a lawsuit today against Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt for failing to respond to a petition filed in 1998 requesting the Secretary to determine which public lands are chiefly valuable for livestock grazing as required under the Taylor Grazing Act. Over 177 million acres of public land in the western states are affected by the petition and are administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
Passed by Congress in 1934, the Taylor Grazing Act requires the Secretary to declare lands "chiefly valuable for grazing" before being included within grazing districts. According to conservation groups, the Secretary never made the required findings. After Congress passed the Act, the Secretary, bowing to strong grazing interests in the West, allowed ranchers to decide which lands to include in districts, even putting a former stockman in charge of overseeing its implementation. Predictably, lands not "chiefly valuable for grazing" were included in grazing districts.
Conservationists want the Secretary to recognize that in the intervening 66 years since the Taylor Grazing Act was passed, much of the public lands are no longer chiefly valuable for livestock grazing, but are more valuable for wilderness, fish and wildlife habitat, recreation and other similar values.
"The American public values its public lands more for clean water, wildlife and wilderness then it does as forage for livestock," said Bill Marlett, Executive Director of the Oregon Natural Desert Association. "We merely want Secretary Babbitt to acknowledge this fact as the law requires."
Congress passed the Taylor Grazing Act to reverse the ecological destruction that uncontrolled grazing had caused throughout the Western at the beginning of the 20th century. Grazing had so severely denuded the land of vegetation that wind storms from the west rained soil upon on our nation's capital while Congress debated passage of the Act.
Conservationists contend that the Secretary's failure to abide by the Act has contributed to the continued degradation of our public lands. Further, it has limited BLM's ability to manage the public's land, which now includes national monuments, national conservation areas, wild and scenic rivers, wilderness areas, research natural areas, areas of critical environmental concern, riparian areas, and critical habitat for endangered and threatened species. Despite the obvious fact that these special places are not chiefly valuable for livestock grazing, the BLM continues to include them within grazing districts.
Lead by the Oregon Natural Desert Association, plaintiffs include the Committee for Idaho's High Desert, Forest Guardians, Center for Biological Diversity, Hells Canyon Preservation Council, Oregon Natural Resources Council, Idaho Watersheds Project, and the American Lands Alliance.