In Nevada: A Successful Legal Settlement And A New Lawsuit And A Wolf Discussion Panel in Pocatello, Idaho October 29, 2002

Online Messenger #46

Success in WWP's Public Land Legal Efforts in Nevada Major Lawsuit Against the Nevada BLM Is Settled

Here is the October 7, 2002 News release sent out by WWP

BLM Agrees to Drastic Reduction of Nevada Fire Project

The Bureau of Land Management has reached a settlement with three conservation groups that effectively douses the agency's scheme to turn 47 square miles of old-growth and mature pinon-juniper forest in Nevada into hundreds of millions of pounds of wood chips.

The BLM planned to spend more than $12 million in federal fire funds targeted for "urban interface zones" to log vast wildlands with 30-ton feller-buncher machines.

The settlement, filed Monday in federal district court in Reno, calls for tree clearing on less than 15 percent of the original project area. Most of the clearing will be carried out on lands less than a mile from home sites.

"We're very pleased to have stopped the project," said Todd Tucci of the Land and Water Fund of the Rockies, representing Western Watersheds Project, the Committee for Idaho's High Desert and the American Lands Alliance. "This was a clear case of a runaway federal agency working below radar, under the guise of fire protection, to denude our treasured public lands. The settlement is a victory for common-sense fire protection."

Removing pinon-juniper forests to stimulate grass growth for federally subsidized public lands livestock grazing is a common BLM practice in Nevada and other parts of the West. The most recent schemes in Nevada, near Ely and Mount Wilson, would have cost $3.5 million per year for four years.

The agency alleged that the Mount Wilson project, which would have covered 34 square miles of public lands, was necessary to protect a 1.2-square-mile enclave of private homes. The Ely project comprised 13 square miles of public lands.

The location of the Mount Wilson project -- 90 miles south of Ely and about 20 miles from the Utah border -- is one of the most sparsely populated areas in the United States.

Last spring WWP, CIHD and ALA filed a lawsuit to stop the BLM plan. The lawsuit charged that both logging projects lacked scientific basis and would severely damage the forest ecosystem. The conservation groups also maintained that the BLM failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act.

All three groups supported actions recommended by the BLM near home sites but argued that the agency's plan to cut vast areas of trees miles away from homes was a blatant misuse of federal funds.

In response to the lawsuit, the BLM sent a team of firefighters and wildland specialists to examine the project area. Based on its findings, the team submitted a radically modified plan that became the basis of the settlement.

"Efforts now being fiercely debated in Congress would strip the public of means to appeal destructive and wasteful projects like the original Ely and Mount Wilson proposals," said CIHD director Katie Fite. "Here, NEPA worked as it was intended. Everybody stepped back, took a second look and came up with a science-based fire protection plan for these homes."

The settlement protects miles of mature and old-growth pinon trees, a crucial food source for birds. Pinon nuts in the Mount Wilson and Ely areas are also harvested by Native Americans for traditional uses and by commercial pickers for sale to markets across the country.

"Each acre of mature pinon forest from this area is capable of producing 250 pounds of food per acre for birds, mammals, rodents and people every 5 years," said Montana forest advocate Penny Frazier.

Longtime Mount Wilson property owner Mike Wilkin welcomed the settlement. "As a landowner in the area, I am pleased that this project has been scaled back," he said." The original project would have severely impacted this beautiful area without meeting the original goal of home protection."

"These projects would have resulted in a massive alteration of forests that are not contiguous to private lands; that, in general, are nowhere near private lands; and that are not, by any stretch of the imagination, in an urban interface zone," said Anne Martin, ALA field director in Spokane.

Tucci added that the BLM settlement demonstrates the importance of public involvement in decisions that impact public lands management.

"Without public participation through the NEPA process, including the ability to appeal and litigate, agencies will have free rein to conduct fuels reduction projects on public lands without adequate public input or the opportunity to challenge ill-conceived agency decisions," he said.

WWP's October 23, 2002 News Release follows:

A New Clean Water Act Lawsuit Is Filed Against The BLM In Nevada By Western Watersheds Project, Forest Guardians and Committee For the High Desert

Forest Guardians, Western Watersheds Project and the Committee for The High Desert filed a lawsuit today against the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, alleging the agency has violated the Clean Water Act by allowing livestock grazing to pollute streams and wetlands.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Nevada just days after the 30th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, claims the BLM has permitted cattle to foul the waters of several tributaries of the Humboldt River, despite monitoring that shows gross violation of state water quality standards.

The lawsuit aims to halt cattle grazing along polluted streams and springs within the 536,000 acre Carico Lake Allotment, one of the largest in the western United States, and to demonstrate that livestock grazing that pollutes streams is illegal. The lawsuit alleges that the BLM has violated Section 313 of the Clean Water Act, which prohibits federal agencies from actions that contribute to or cause violations of water quality standards.

"If we want healthy, functioning streams that produce clean water, fish and wildlife habitat, and recreational values, then we must eliminate livestock grazing, especially along degraded streams, as is the case throughout the Carico Lake Allotment," said John Horning, executive director of Forest Guardians.

In May 2000 the BLM released a report which overwhelmingly concluded that cattle in and around streams, rivers and springs directly causes water quality violations for temperature, fecal coliform (due to excretion directly into the water), turbidity and sedimentation (due to streambank trampling by cattle). However, the agency has done nothing since the report was published to correct these violations on the Carico Lake Allotment.

"With this lawsuit, we aim to hold all public land ranchers accountable for violations of the Clean Water Act and to finally assert that any grazing that causes or contributes to water pollution is illegal," said Jon Marvel, executive director of Western Watersheds Project, underscoring the scope of the lawsuit.

Cattle are notorious for polluting streams, springs and rivers. They routinely congregate in large numbers around rare and fragile water sources, stripping away vegetation and trampling streambanks. Livestock grazing on the Carico Lake Allotment is also damaging the habitat of sensitive wildlife species such as the Western sage grouse and Northern goshawk, both of which are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Currently about 40,000 cattle graze on the allotment.

"As long as the BLM and other federal land management agencies continue to bow to the livestock industry, we'll never meet the promise of the Clean Water Act of restoring all streams, rivers and wetlands," said Katie Fite, spokeswoman for the Committee for The High Desert.

The lawsuit is the latest in a series of actions taken by the conservation groups in an effort to require federal agencies to comply with environmental statutes as a means of eliminating or dramatically reducing livestock grazing in the western United States.

Wolf Discussion Panel To Be Held At Idaho State University in Pocatello, October 29, 2002

At 7:00 P.M. October 29, 2002 at the Idaho State University Student Union a five person panel discussion on management of wolves in Idaho will be held. Sponsored by ISU, the panelists are WWP Advisory Board Member and wolf advocate, Dr. Ralph Maughan; Jon Marvel, Executive Director of Western Watersheds Project; Ron Gillett, Stanley, Idaho Outfitter and outspoken wolf critic; Bob Loucks, Lemhi County Rancher and member of the Idaho Wolf Committee; and Carter Niemeyer, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wolf manager for Idaho.

Open mike audience questions will be encouraged after short opening remarks by the panelists.