Western Watersheds Project Initiates Two Major Public Lands Accountability Actions

Online Messenger #28

On Tuesday January 29, 2002 Western Watersheds Project filed an Appeal and Petition For Stay to block the implementation of livestock grazing permits for more than 370,000 acres of BLM administered lands on more than 30 allotments in Moffatt and Routt Counties in northwestern Colorado. The Appeal and Petition for Stay was filed in partnership with Sinapu, a non profit conservation group from Boulder, Colorado dedicated to the protection and restoration of native predators in Colorado.

This action is the first legal involvement of WWP in the administration of public lands ranching in Colorado. The Appeal states that the BLM has failed to meet the requirements of law under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA). The BLM decision was also in violation of BLM's Colorado Standards and Guidelines for Healthy Rangelands. Many areas on the allotments have been significantly damaged by continuing livestock grazing as catalogued in the BLM's own documentation of the environmental condition of the lands involved.

The allotments in question provide habitat for declining populations of sage grouse and other sensitive species. The watersheds on the allotments affect watercourses which are habitat for a number of endemic Colorado River fishes listed under the Endangered Species Act. The allotments are permitted to the Raftopoulos Brothers of Craig, Colorado who are among the largest public lands ranchers in the state. One member of the family, Marianna Raftopoulos, is a Moffatt County Commissioner along with another influential local rancher, T. Wright Dickinson, whose BLM grazing permits are also awaiting renewal this winter.

The Petition For Stay asks that the renewal of the Raftopoulos grazing permits be stayed pending the outcome of the Appeal, and that the BLM be required to adopt specific interim terms and conditions before any livestock grazing use is permitted to take place in 2002.

WWP Sends 60 Day Notice Letter To Force Better Protection of the Threatened Jarbidge River Bull Trout Population

Western Watersheds Project has sent a 60 day notice of intention to sue under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to The Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest and the Jarbidge Field Office of the BLM for numerous failures of the agencies to analyze and protect habitat for the isolated bull trout population in the Jarbidge River on the Idaho-Nevada border. WWP is joined in the action by the Committee for Idaho's High Desert.

The two agencies have failed to consult, as required by law, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over numerous permitted activities including livestock grazing on public lands which may affect the survival of bull trout in the Jarbidge River and its headwater tributaries especially Dave Creek. One of the permitted uses questioned in the 60 day notice letter is the Jim Bob pipeline which takes between 95 and 100% of the water from a Jarbidge River tributary in Nevada, Jim Bob Creek, and distributes it over more than 60 miles of public lands in Idaho to provide water to Brackett and Simplot cattle.

Readers will recall that Bert Brackett is the rancher featured some time ago on NBC evening news' "Fleecing of America" for receiving a million dollar pay-off from the Air Force for the loss of public lands grazing use related to the development of an Air Force Training Range. The Air Force later permitted Brackett to continue using the public lands on which he had already received compensation and charged him nothing to keep grazing his cattle!

The BLM and Forest Service lands in question are permitted for livestock grazing to three of the biggest public lands ranching operations in the West, Chet and Bert Brackett, and the largest public lands rancher in the USA, 92 year old potato magnate, J.R. Simplot. The area also includes the infamous Jarbidge Road which was closed by the Forest Service after a flood wash-out, and which has inflamed the passions of county rights groups across the west. The illegal bulldozing by Elko County officials of the Jarbidge Road was the reason for the emergency ESA listing of the Jarbidge River population of bull trout.

WWP and CIHD are ably represented in this case by attorneys Laird Lucas of Boise and Bill Eddie of the Land and Water Fund of the Rockies Boise office.

LOOK AT the text (.doc) of the Appeal and Petition For Stay filed by WWP and Sinapu.