Western Watersheds Wins Stay to Protect Craters of the Moon

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Here is the WWP News Release:

WWP Granted Stay On BLM's Livestock Grazing Decision For The 98,000 acre Laidlaw Park Allotment Located In The Craters of the Moon National Monument And Preserve

The federal Office of Hearings and Appeals in Salt Lake City has granted a stay requested by Western Watersheds Project that blocks a Bureau of Land Management decision authorizing grazing in the Laidlaw Park Allotment of Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve.

The stay prevents the BLM from implementing a plan that would have increased cattle and sheep numbers on the allotment despite the agency's previous finding that grazing has severely degraded the area.

Judge James Heffernan put a halt to the BLM's grazing decision, ruling that more livestock grazing "may only exacerbate the poor vegetative conditions" on the Laidlaw Park Allotment and "hasten listing of the sage grouse."

"The public's interest in maintaining the integrity of its lands and sensitive species outweighs the interest of the BLM and the permittees in keeping livestock on the allotment," Heffernan noted in his ruling.

The judge ruled that the "serious and long-lasting effects" of overgrazing outweighed any economic loss incurred in the removal of livestock from the allotment. He also noted that the BLM appeared to have misrepresented its own data and analyses in its decision to allow more grazing on Laidlaw Park.

"We're elated that the court saw through the BLM's duplicity," said WWP biodiversity director Katie Fite. "BLM had contrived to increase cattle and sheep grazing and trampling in fragile Craters sagebrush habitats where sage grouse populations are plummeting."

The Laidlaw Park lands provide critical habitat for sage grouse, antelope, pygmy rabbits, burrowing owls, sage thrashers, loggerhead shrikes and other sagebrush-dependent wildlife.

President Calvin Coolidge designated Craters of the Moon as a national monument in 1924. Before leaving office, President Clinton expanded the monument by hundreds of thousands of acres, recognizing the scientific importance of the area's sagebrush steppe ecosystem and the fact that Laidlaw Park is the largest kipuka in the world.

Kipukas are "islands" of sagebrush lands where soils have developed on old lava flows. Large areas of more recent lava surround them.

In its appeal, WWP argued that the BLM's decision defied the Monument Proclamation for Craters of the Moon. The proclamation identifies objects of scientific interest, including sagebrush plant communities that provide essential habitat for sensitive sage grouse populations. This unique habitat, in fact, was the impetus for designating Craters of the Moon as a national monument.

The proclamation reads in part: "The kipukas provide a window on vegetative communities of the past that have been erased from most of the Snake River Plain. . . . these kipukas represent some of the last nearly pristine and undisturbed vegetation in the Snake River Plain, including 700-year-old juniper trees and relict stands of sagebrush that are essential habitat for sensitive sage grouse populations."

WWP has already documented extensive bird mortalities from existing water projects on the Laidlaw Park Allotment. Sage grouse leks have disappeared entirely from portions of the allotment, and surveys indicate a marked decline of migratory birds.

Some 28,000 acres of public lands in Laidlaw Park are now dominated by non-native annual grasses, including knapweed, rush skeleton weed and vast expanses of cheatgrass.

In its own studies, the BLM acknowledged that livestock grazing has severely degraded the area in violation of the Fundamentals of Rangeland Health.

"Keeping the BLM in compliance with the law is a full-time task, and Western Watersheds Project is the group that makes sure that this happens," said Jon Marvel, executive director of WWP. "Judge Heffernan's decision to stay the Laidlaw Park Allotment grazing decision affirms that WWP is getting the job done."