Legal Updates & NPLGC News

Online Messenger #34

Buy Out Letter In The Mail

On Tuesday April 9, 2002, The National Public Lands Grazing Campaign mailed its grazing permit buy out proposal to 26,000 federal grazing permittees across the West. Western Watersheds Project is a co-founder and member of the Steering Committee of the National Public Lands Grazing Campaign along with five other conservation groups.

The letter proposes that ranchers who hold grazing permits be able to voluntarily relinquish them for a one-time payment of $175.00 per Animal Unit Month (AUM). Under this plan if a rancher had a permit for 300 cows and calves to use public lands for five months (1500 AUMs), he or she could receive $ 262,500. or between two and three times the current market value of a grazing permit.

Congressional action will be required to authorize and fund the buy-out program which if fully implemented will cost about 3.3 billion dollars but will save the American taxpayers at least $500,000,000 annually as well as enable the full recovery of many damaged western ecosystems.

WWP welcomes the opportunity to help initiate this equitable solution to the contentious issue of public lands ranching, and would like to thank Andy Kerr and the other staff of the NPLGC as well as WWP's own Keith Raether who is now NPLGC's Public Information Coordinator.

Slickspot Peppergrass Listing Lawsuit Settled

On April 4, 2002 Western Watersheds Project and the Committee for Idaho's High Desert signed a settlement with the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) which requires the Service to publish a proposed listing rule in the federal Register for Slickspot Peppergrass (Lepidium papilliferum) by July 15, 2002 and to publish a final listing decision for the plant by the same date in 2003.

The groups had sued the FWS for failure to list the species as endangered last year. One of the rarest plants native to Idaho, it remaining habitat in Owyhee County Idaho has been reduced to a few locations threatened by livestock grazing, off road vehicles, county road blading, the Air Force Training Range at Juniper Butte and invasive weeds. The FWS had proposed listing the species as Endangered under the Endangered Species Act, but withdrew the proposal under political pressure from Senator Mike Crapo of Idaho.

WWP and CIHD were represented in this case by Laird Lucas of Boise and Todd Tucci of the Land and Water Fund of the Rockies Boise Office.

WWP Has Victory In Westslope Cutthroat Trout Listing Lawsuit

Under the leadership of American Wildlands of Bozeman, Montana, WWP and several other groups as well as famous fisherman, Bud Lilly, were awarded a victory in federal District Court in Washington D.C. on March 31, 2002 in a lawsuit which questioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's denial of the groups' listing petition for Westslope Cutthroat Trout (Onchorynchus clarki lewisi), the state fish of Idaho and Montana whose Latin name pays tribute to the famous explorers, Lewis and Clark.

District of Columbia District Court Judge Sullivan took the FWS to task for failing to define distinctions between pure strain and hybridized westslope cutthroat trout even though the FWS acknowledges that hybridization is the single largest threat to the continued existence of the species. The Judge remanded the case to the FWS for corrected action which WWP hope will result in Endangered Species Act protection for this wonderful fish which is now relegated to less than 5% of its original habitat in the western U.S. and a small part of Canada.

WWP owes victory in this case to the excellent work of the staff of American Wildlands and to our attorneys from Earthjustice's Bozeman Office including Doug Honnold, Abigail Dillen and Tim Preso.

WWP and Partners File New Lawsuit in Nevada

This week Western Watersheds Project, the Committee for Idaho's High Desert, and American Lands filed a lawsuit in federal District Court in Reno, Nevada against the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) seeking to stop the implementation of two proposed wildlands/urban interface fuel reduction projects on over 53 square miles of land in White Pine County, Nevada.

These two projects are among the first ones of this scale proposed under the National Fire Plan adopted by Congress in 2000/2001 after western wildfires burned large areas of several states in the late summer of 2000. The National Fire Plan proposes to reduce the risks to developed areas of the west by thinning and prescribed burning of public land areas near to inhabited buildings to reduce the potential for catastrophic wildfires which could result in the loss of property or human lives.

These two proposals would remove massive areas of native juniper and pinon forests up to 30 miles away from any buildings in the Mount Wilson area and in the neighborhood of Ely, Nevada. The proposals require the use of 30 ton track-mounted feller-bunchers to remove up to 35,000 acres of juniper-pinon forest followed by the use of a 30 ton track-mounted chippers which would leave 2-4 inches of wood chips in place over most of the 53 square miles in the project areas.

WWP believes that these projects are probably designed to open up new forage areas for public lands ranching and also to provide a cheap source of fuel for a proposed federally subsidized biomass powered electrical generating plant using wood chips to be located near Mesquite in Lincoln County, Nevada to the south of the project areas. The projects would also eliminate an historic and renewable pinon nut gathering industry that dates to before European settlement.

The lawsuit takes the BLM to task for its non-compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

WWP and its partners are ably represented in this action by Attorney Todd Tucci of the Land and Water Fund of the Rockies Boise Office and Laird Lucas of Boise. Local counsel in Nevada is provided by Henry Egghart Esq. of Reno, Nevada.

Wolf Story Correction

WWP would like to correct the Online Messenger #32 which described the killing of the White Hawk Pack to note that the killing of the entire pack by federal government agents is now confirmed, and the total number of wolves killed in less than a week was ten not nine as previously stated in Online Messenger #32.