Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Confirms Grazing Cutbacks in Owyhee County Idaho

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Here is the WWP News release that was sent out today:

Cattle Grazing Threatens Owyhee Canyonlands, Appeals Court Rules
Grazing Injunction Upheld by Federal Court

A federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld a sweeping injunction that limits grazing on 1 million acres of public lands in the Owyhee Canyonlands of southwestern Idaho.

The injunction, ordered by U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill in 2000 following a lawsuit by Western Watersheds Project and the Committee for Idaho's High Desert, mandates sharp reductions in livestock on many Owyhee grazing allotments.

Owyhee ranchers and the Bureau of Land Management appealed Winmill's decision to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

The court rejected the appeal, affirming Winmill's injunction on all points and commending the judge for doing "an admirable job of ensuring an equitable result in a difficult situation."

"Water is life, and the health of the Owyhee depends on the health of its streams," the court noted in its ruling."Unfortunately, cattle overgrazing now threatens the life of the Owyhee."

In 1997, WWP (then Idaho Watersheds Project) and CIHD sued over the Owyhee lands, claiming the BLM violated federal law in failing to protect streams, fish, sage grouse and other Owyhee resources from grazing impacts.

Winmill upheld the groups' claims and entered an injunction limiting grazing to protect streams on about 1 million acres of public lands. The injunction also required BLM to conduct environmental studies of 68 grazing allotments on a timetable determined by the court.

Winmill's ruling reduces grazing by about 50 percent, mandates minimal stubble heights and sets limits on bank trampling of stream segments at less than 10 percent while BLM conducts environmental studies.

In its decision, the appeals court described in detail the damage that livestock have caused to streams and other Owyhee resources since BLM first studied the problem in 1981. The court also noted that the BLM did nothing to correct the problem until WWP and CIHD sued.

The grazing practices "are responsible for the continued destruction of riparian habitat" and "are based on badly out of date management techniques," the court held.

"Ranchers can no longer hide behind the pretense that they are 'stewards of the land'," said Jon Marvel, executive director of WWP. "The federal court of appeals confirms what we have been saying for years: Grazing is harming publics lands and wildlife. If BLM cannot manage grazing to protect streams and wildlife habitat, then it has to keep the cows out of those areas."

"This is another nail in the coffin for the ranching industry in the Owyhee," said Katie Fite, director of CIHD. "Ranchers hoped their appeal would protect them from grazing changes levied by the court's injunction. Now the case for public lands is clear: Ranchers will have to manage their cows to protect the land or get out of the business."

The appeals court ruling impacts the broad sweep of the West, where public lands are plentiful and livestock grazing continues.

"This is the most direct address of environmental harms of grazing by a federal appeals court," said Boise attorney Laird J. Lucas, who teamed with William Eddie of the Land and Water Fund of the Rockies to represent WWP and CIHD. "The ruling that BLM's grazing management is badly outdated will have impact far beyond the Owyhee Canyonlands because the same problems exist throughout the West."