On May 7, 2009 Chief federal District Judge of the District for Idaho B. Lynn Winmill ruled in in favor of Western Watersheds Project and denied a government Motion to sever and reassign WWP’s litigation challenging 18 BLM Resource Management Plans covering over 34,000,000 public land acres issued at the end of the George W. Bush administration. Judge Winmill did dismiss WWP’s claims for two RMPs, the Pocatello RMP in Idaho and the Kemmerer RMP in Wyoming, because they were not final. WWP anticipates that those two will be added back into this litigation when they become final agency decisions.
Bureau of Land Management Resource Management Plans (RMPs) guide management of livestock grazing, off road vehicles, energy development including power lines and other potentially environmentally harmful uses of public land.
In the litigation WWP argues that Bush BLM’s Resource Management Plans each violate the fundamental environmental laws of the United States thereby threatening many imperiled species including sage grouse – an imperiled landscape indicator species (the ‘canary in the coal-mine’ of sage-steppe habitat) across millions of acres.
For more on sage grouse please visit WWP's Sage grouse page
In his Order, Judge Winmill rebuffs the government’s attempt to split the case using the recent Northern Rockies Mountain Wolf delisting case as an example:
Resolution of environmental actions often affects areas far outside the judicial district of the resolving court. For example, Montana District Judge Donald W. Molloy resolved a dispute over the de-listing of a distinct population segment of the Rocky Mountain gray wolf that was found in Idaho, Wyoming and Montana. See Defenders of Wildlife v. Hall, 565 F.Supp. 1160 (D.Mont. 2008). A population segment may span several judicial districts requiring a court to look outside its own boundaries.
This order similarly creates an opportunity for the Obama Administration to make good on its campaign promise to reform the Department of Interior’s corrupt disregard for science, law and the public interest.
WWP is represented in this litigation by Advocates For The West and WWP’s legal counsel Laird Lucas. Thank you Laird !
Here is a map provided by WWP’s attorneys at Advocates For The West in Boise showing the landscape affected by this WWP litigation.
Subsequent to an Appeal filed by WWP’s Arizona Legal Counsel Erik Ryberg the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest has withdrawn its decision to continue livestock grazing on the Molina Springs Grazing Allotment in Arizona. The grazing allotment, although historically lightly grazed and only grazed during the winter, has suffered widespread damage from livestock. Soil loss, in particular, seems to be accelerating on the allotment to the point that erosion there is an acknowledged threat both to terrestrial wildlife and downstream fish.
Worse, the Forest Service was apparently unaware of large-scale water developments that have been constructed on the allotment, including solar-powered pumping stations, wells, underground water storage tanks, and miles of buried pipeline. The Forest Service document prepared for the decision regarded all these actions as possible future projects that would undergo future environmental analysis. However, Western Watersheds showed that the projects are actually already completed.
The Forest Service has not revealed whether it really did not know about the projects or was only claiming not to know about them in its environmental decision.
Apart from questions about whether these developments were ever authorized by the Forest Service, they also do not meet Forest standards, because they do not contain wildlife escape ramps and because they are not accessible to smaller forest animals.
The Forest Service has also not stated whether the developments will be made to conform to standards, but Western Watersheds Project will insist that they do.
Thank you Erik !
On April 27th, Administrative Law Judge Andrew S. Pearlstein granted WWP’s Motion for Summary Judgment ruling against the BLM on their decision to continue grazing on the Denver Jake and Lost Creek allotments. The judge agree with WWP that the BLM had violated the law by permitting more livestock grazing than the BLM’s own data showed could be allowed. The judge stated:
the EA does not include any substantial discussion of why it selected an alternative that increases authorized livestock use some 30% over the only established survey of livestock carrying capacity on the allotment.
The judge continued
The decision to continue permitted use at a higher level of AUMs than the established carrying capacity of the allotment is especially curious in view of the fact that the permittee has not used anywhere near that number of AUMs over the past 24 years.
Judge Pearlstein perceptively remarked
The probable inferred fact that rangeland conditions have not improved at this much lower level of actual AUM use provides a buttressing reason to require the BLM to further explain its decision to permit a continued higher level of authorized grazing use.
This is an important insight because often the BLM permits AUM’s far in excess of actual use but analyzes impacts as if all permitted AUM’s were used, and continues to permit AUM’s well above current capacity.
Judge Pearlstein characterized the EA as “quite cursory” and seemed to agree with a wide range of other issues brought up by WWP in its appeal when he cautioned the that “BLM would be well advised to further substantively consider the additional issues cited above in WWP’s appeal and motion.” He also recommended that the BLM conduct a rangeland health assessment prior to redoing its NEPA analysis.
The judge sent the decision back to BLM to redo to “take a harder look at environmental impacts, particularly cumulative impacts of oil and gas development, and impacts on sage grouse habitat”
Thanks go to WWP Wyoming Director Jonathan Ratner for successfully carrying this appeal. Thank you Jonathan !
On another Wyoming case, the BLM’s Solicitor’s Office has recently filed a Motion for Remand after nearly a year since WWP’s appeal was filed. The Solicitor admits that the BLM’s decision on the Hickey Mountain allotment on the Rock Springs Field Office violated the law and could not be defended.
On May 6, 2009, WWP's Arizona Director Greta Anderson filed a 60 Day Notice Of Intent (NOI) to sue for violations of the Endangered Species Act with the Gila District of the BLM.
A 2003 Biological Opinion clearly spells out management terms for 18 allotments along the Gila River within the habitats of southwestern willow flycatcher, lesser long-nosed bat, loach minnow and spikedace; however, the BLM has not been doing all of the required monitoring, has not been tracking range development construction or actual use, and is not adhering to utilization limits established in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s management mitigation for these imperiled species in their Biological Opinion.
Interested readers can read WWP’s 60 Day Notice of Intent to sue
Greta was assisted by Kristin Ruether of Advocates for the West in preparing the NOI. Thanks Kristin and Greta !
Western Watersheds Project Is A West Regional Conservation Organization Working To Protect And Restore Western Watersheds And Wildlife
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