Last week, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar decided that Pygmy rabbits were "not warranted" for Endangered Species Act protections despite the ongoing impacts of extractive industries' relentless destruction of sagebrush habitats throughout the west.
In its decision, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife determined that there is insufficient data on Pygmy rabbit populations to warrant listing the species under the Act.
Western Watersheds Project will be reviewing the decision to determine its legal adequacy.
The Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management oversees about 250 million acres of public land in the West. Much is leased out, some to energy and mining companies, but mostly to ranchers for grazing cattle and sheep. The bureau is supposed to find a balance between the public interest and the interest of the leaseholders — upholding the public interest whenever conflicts arise.
In the 1990’s, the bureau took this responsibility seriously, requiring ranchers to observe sensible grazing practices that protected the environment. Then came the George W. Bush administration, which eased the regulations to please the ranchers, many of whom had begun to think of the land they were only renting as their own.
Two recent court decisions have now reasserted the public interest. A panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last month that the Bush regulations violated environmental laws by limiting public participation in bureau decisions and weakened the ability of federal and state agencies to prevent harmful grazing practices and manage rangelands in an environmentally sound way.
Two weeks later in Idaho, United States District Court Judge Candy Dale ruled that the bureau must end its policy of withholding the names and addresses of people with grazing permits on 160 million acres of its land.
This is one way, she wrote, of “understanding the scope of the grazing and rangeland program,” its environmental impact and its costs. The Forest Service does not withhold the names of the ranchers who lease its lands, and neither should the Bureau of Land Management. These lands do, after all, belong to the public.
Some holders of the bureau’s grazing leases have been excellent stewards of the land. Some have not. The government’s job is to make sure that all of them are, by ensuring transparency in its leasing operations, upholding environmental laws and reminding leaseholders that they hold their leases in trust for the rest of us.
Thanks to our partners at Advocates for the West for their exceptional legal representation with both of these important cases !