On March 1, 2006 Administrative Law Judge James H. Heffernan of the Department of the Interior's Office of Hearings and Appeals agreed with an Appeal filed by Western Watersheds Project and issued a 27 page decision reversing a Bureau of Land Management decision authorizing cattle grazing on almost 500,000 acres of public lands in northeast Nevada's Elko County.
Judge Heffernan, who recently affirmed the transfer of BLM grazing permits in southern Utah to the Grand Canyon Trust, found that the BLM violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to analyze many aspects of its decision including not assessing the impact on sage grouse and wild horses of its proposal to build over 150 miles of fences crisscrossing the allotments. Judge Heffernan also chided the BLM for failing to analyze simple remedies like reducing cattle numbers and requiring residual herbaceous hiding cover of a certain minimum height to provide sage grouse nesting protection.
The public lands covered by the decision include three very large BLM grazing allotments: Squaw Valley, Spanish Ranch and Elevenmile Flat. The allotments include critical habitat for many sage-steppe obligate species including sage grouse, pygmy rabbits, Brewer's sparrow, northern shrikes, sage thrashers, numerous reptiles and antelope. Critical habitat for remnant populations of ESA listed Lahontan cutthroat trout are also found in the streams on the allotments.
Ironically the largest "grazing" permittee on the three allotments is not a rancher at all but Barrick Goldstrike (http://www.barrick.com/), the largest gold mining company in the world ! Judge Heffernan noted in his decision that the dewatering effects on wildlife habitat and streams of Barrick's huge Betze gold mining project near the allotments was never analyzed by the BLM. The Judge noted that that gold mine alone would draw down water tables by up to 15 feet in an area extending more than 30 miles from the mine.
WWP believes that in the interim period while the BLM is bringing its grazing decision into compliance with federal law that all grazing may cease on this huge landscape. It is WWP's intention to seek the closure of these allotments as an interim measure because of the BLM's already identified negative and irreparable impacts of cattle use on wildlife habitats and Lahontan cutthroat trout under current cattle grazing uses.
WWP owes a huge thanks to WWP's Biodiversity Director Katie Fite and WWP's attorney in this case, Todd Tucci of Advocates For The West (http://www.advocateswest.org) for this great win and for enduring a mind-numbing two week court hearing in charming downtown Elko to get this victory.
Thank you Katie and Todd!
Take a look at Judge James Heffernan's OHA Decision of 3/1/06 Overturning Elko BLM's Squaw Valley and Spanish Ranch Allotments Grazing Decision.