WWP to Federal Court: BLM Violates Law With Utah Grazing Permits; Federal Court Expands Order to Protect Wolves in Idaho's Sawtooth National Recreation Area

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Here Are Two WWP News Releases From April 2 and April 4, 2003 Respectively:

WWP to Federal Court: BLM Violates Law With Utah Grazing Permits

Western Watersheds Project today asked a U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City to cancel 149 public-lands grazing permits issued by the Bureau of Land Management in northern Utah, saying the permits violate federal law.

The permits, issued by the agency in 2001, cover 77 allotments on nearly 1.5 million acres of BLM lands in Tooele, Rich and Box Elder counties. These lands provide habitat for a wide variety of wildlife, including elk, deer, sage grouse and cutthroat trout.

WWP claims the BLM failed to monitor and record the impacts of livestock grazing on these species and their habitat as required by the National Environmental Policy Act. The conservation group says the agency ignored the data of independent scientists and its own staff that revealed grazing impacts such as soil erosion, habitat destruction and water-quality degradation in streams.

"The science is in, and it is clear: grazing in arid places such as Utah takes a heavy environmental toll," said Dr. John Carter, an ecologist in Logan who directs WWP's operations in Utah. "Cows destroy streams, grasses and soils, which, in turn, harms all kinds of birds, fish and wildlife."

"We presented BLM with detailed reports showing this damage, but they ignored it and said grazing has no significant environmental impact," Carter added. "This is not only bad science but also a violation of federal law."

WWP's motion charges that BLM has repeatedly failed its obligation under NEPA to "study, develop and discuss appropriate alternatives" to "status quo" grazing.

"Never did BLM consider a reduction of livestock numbers for the vast majority of the allotments," the court document reads. "Never did BLM consider excluding livestock from sensitive or unsuitable areas of the allotments."

"We are asking the federal court to uphold our nation's environmental laws, since BLM will not do it," said WWP executive director Jon Marvel. "In this case, the BLM swept under the rug any consideration of the harms of livestock grazing or alternatives to protect our vulnerable public lands."

WWP's motion is the latest chapter in a lawsuit filed in May 2002. In that filing, Carter noted that only eight of 32 stream sites assessed in Box Elder County were determined to be in proper functioning condition, while the remaining sites were degraded.

Moreover, of 208 springs believed to exist on BLM lands in Box Elder County, none were assessed. The BLM failed to review the sites despite a record of decision and rangeland program summary for the area that revealed 124 springs and 16 perennial streams to be in danger of dewatering and loss due to livestock grazing and trampling.

WWP submitted detailed monitoring and inventory reports as well as extensive scientific studies cataloging a broad swath of environmental degradation from livestock grazing.

"The BLM failed to provide an analysis of these springs and streams and failed to resolve how its current assessments could find such a small number of 'nonfunctional' streams in the face of its analysis in 1986," said Carter.

The federal lands under BLM management in Rich, Tooele and Box Elder counties share many geographical and ecological features. The lands are dominated by sagebrush and salt desert shrub ecosystems wholly unsuited to livestock grazing.

Historically, public lands in northern Utah have provided sustainable habitat for a variety of fish and wildlife species, including Lahontan cutthroat trout listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Scientific studies have long documented the adverse effects of livestock grazing on these lands, the lower elevations of which receive less than 12 inches of precipitation per year on average. Cattle typically gather around shady, streamside riparian areas, denuding vegetation, eliminating shady cover over streams, trampling stream banks, filling streams with sediment and fouling the water with fecal contamination.

A court hearing and decision on WWP's motion are expected by this summer.

LOOK AT the brief filed by WWP (.doc)

Federal Court Expands Order to Protect Wolves in Idaho's Sawtooth National Recreation Area

Federal District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill on Thursday renewed an injunction that fully protects wolves on public lands in Idaho's Sawtooth National Recreation Area for a second consecutive grazing season even if predations of livestock by wolves occur in the SNRA.

Winmill also clarified the injunction sought by Western Watersheds Project and the Idaho Conservation League to include protection of wolves on private lands in the SNRA.

Furthermore, at the request of WWP and ICL, the judge accelerated by three years the U.S. Forest Service's schedule for environmental analyses of livestock grazing allotments in the SNRA. The analyses will ultimately determine whether grazing must be reduced or discontinued because of adverse effects on wildlife in the SNRA.

"Judge Winmill's decision is a great one for wolves and a necessary one for the Forest Service, which clearly needs this kind of direction to do its job," said Jon Marvel, executive director of WWP.

While the court decision stops short of prohibiting grazing on allotments, it sends a clear reminder to the Forest Service and livestock operators in the SNRA: "Wolves will not be killed, even when sheep or cattle occupy their habitat and pay the price," in Marvel's words.

"Since last year's ruling, it's been business as usual for the Forest Service," said Justin Hayes, program director of ICL. "The agency has changed nothing. With another grazing season approaching, we had no choice but to ask the court again to prevent the killing of wolves in the SNRA."

Under Winmill's latest ruling, the Forest Service must complete by Sept. 30 the first of three environmental analyses of grazing allotments in the SNRA. The agency must complete two other evaluations before the 2004 and 2005 grazing seasons, respectively.

In his initial ruling in July 2002, Winmill cited Forest Service "violations" in its management of wolves in the SNRA. That decision sought to strike "a proper balance" between "the primacy of the value of wildlife" under the Organic Act and the "conditional value" of livestock grazing.

Winmill ruled that the Forest Service, which manages the SNRA, violated the Organic Act that created the area by failing to consider whether livestock grazing is "substantially impairing" wolf populations. He added that the Organic Act does not include grazing as a "historic" or "pastoral" value.

The renewed injunction continues to bind not only the Forest Service but also the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in protecting wolf populations in the SNRA.

Despite the presence of wolves in the area, some 4,470 sheep and 2,500 cattle are allowed to graze on 28 Forest Service allotments in the SNRA.

"Wolves are an important part of how nature is supposed to work in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area," said Laird Lucas of Advocates for the West, representing WWP and ICL. "They could draw thousands of people to Idaho to see them, as they do in Yellowstone. The injunction against killing wolves in the SNRA will help restore the ecosystem while jump-starting the economy in central Idaho."