Western Watersheds Project Wins Another Major Federal Court Victory

Online Messenger #110

On Tuesday February 7, 2006 Chief Judge B. Lynn Winmill of the United States District Court For The District of Idaho Issued An Order Awarding Summary Judgment To Western Watersheds Project In Litigation Affecting Four Large Sheep Grazing Allotments And 150,000 Acres On The Sawtooth National Recreation Area And The Ketchum Ranger District of the Sawtooth National Forest.

In a decision that will have ramifications for the administration of livestock grazing on National Forests throughout Region 4 of the Forest Service and quite probably beyond, Chief Judge Winmill determined that the Sawtooth National Forest violated both the National Forest Management Act (NFMA) and the National Environmental policy Act (NEPA) in issuing two major grazing decision affecting four domestic sheep grazing allotments and over 150,000 acres of public lands north of Ketchum, Idaho. Two of the three grazing permittees affected by this legal decision are among the largest sheep ranchers on public lands in the United States: John Faulkner and Lava Lake Land and Livestock.

Judge Winmill overturned the Forest Service decisions for violations of NFMA and NEPA for failing to analyze at a site specific level the capability of these lands to support domestic livestock. The Forest Service had determined in the Sawtooth Forest Plan issued in 2003 that between 13% and 25% of the four allotments were capable of supporting domestic sheep grazing; however, The agency failed to use that information when it completed an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) as the site specific analysis of those same four allotments effectively hiding and ignoring their own data from the Forest Plan.

Judge Winmill also determined that the Forest Service violated NFMA by failing to analyze the effects of livestock grazing on capability and suitability for two Sawtooth Forest Management Indicator Species (MIS): pileated woodpecker and sage grouse.

The Judge also determined that the Forest Service violated NFMA by not analyzing the impacts of its chimerical adaptive management scheme which was dependent on monitoring that was never described in any way in the EIS or the two Records Of Decision.

In conclusion, Judge Winmill granted WWP Summary Judgment on all major legal claims made in the litigation.

The parties to this case will now file briefing on interim remedies and possible injunctive relief that will be in effect pending completion of a legally sufficient analysis and new grazing decisions that will comply with NFMA and NEPA.

Possible outcomes of that new round of briefing include no sheep grazing on the four allotments until the Forest Service complies with the law.

This decision will require the Forest Service, when analyzing and authorizing livestock grazing, to take a hard look at whether lands included in grazing allotments are capable of supporting that use, something that the agency has never done before even though required by law to do so since 1976!

WWP would like to express thanks to our lead attorney in this important victory, Laurie Rule of the Boise Office of Advocates For The West for her exceptionally thorough work in this case and to Laird Lucas who oversaw all of Laurie's great work.

Thank you Laurie and Laird!

WWP would also like to thank Amy Haak and the staff at Conservation Geography in Boise for their good work mapping the Sawtooth Forest Plan GIS data on capability and suitability for livestock grazing something that was a critical part of this case.

TAKE A LOOK at the North Fork-Boulder Sheep EIS and RODs Summary Judgment February 2006.