WWP Sues The BLM In Washington D.C. Over The Frank Robbins Settlement in Worland, Wyoming

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BLM Sued Over Robbins Deal

By BRODIE FARQUHAR Star-Tribune staff writer

Two conservation groups filed a lawsuit last Thursday in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia against top officials of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) -- objecting to a unique settlement in favor of a Thermopolis-area rancher.

Western Watersheds Project of Hailey, Idaho and American Lands Alliance of Washington, D.C., filed suit last week alleging unlawful actions and failures of action by the top leadership of the BLM, "who have overridden the scientific and professional judgment of BLM staff in order to favor a wealthy and politically powerful rancher, Harvey Frank Robbins, granting him grazing privileges and preferences in violation of the nation's laws and regulations governing public lands grazing."

The lawsuit is not aimed at Robbins, only his settlement with the BLM and the BLM officials who authorized the settlement: allegedly Kathleen Clarke, director of the bureau and Francis Cherry, her deputy director. The settlement, achieved after years of lawsuits and counter lawsuits between Robbins and the BLM, stayed all regulatory action against Robbins, even though grazing violations have allegedly continued.

"I understand the BLM is conducting its own internal investigation," said Laird Lucas, an attorney for Advocates for the West, a Boise-based, nonprofit, conservation law firm. "We're hoping this will prod the BLM into a settlement." Lucas and associate Lauren Rule have teamed up with Jonathan Lovvorn of Meyer & Glitzenstein in Washington, D.C.

The lawsuit alleges violations of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, Taylor Grazing Act, and the Code of Federal Regulations, but not the Endangered Species Act. Lucas said he's investigating biologists' statements that grizzly bears inhabit Robbins' ranches and whether a grizzly bear was illegally shot and killed. An ESA complaint that BLM did not consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over grizzly bears observed on Robbins' Owl Creek allotments could be filed separately or added as an amendment.

Lucas said the federal government has 60 days to respond. If the case is still ongoing in the spring, Lucas said he may seek injunctive relief. He cited BLM records that indicate BLM pastures leased by Robbins have experienced moderate to severe degradation due to overgrazing and the ongoing drought. "That land really needs a rest," Lucas said. Celia Boddington, spokeswoman for BLM headquarters, said the lawsuit is still under review and the bureau has no comment as yet.

Western Watersheds Project is a nonprofit conservation organization focused on protecting and conserving public lands and natural resources of watersheds in the West. American Lands Alliance is a nonprofit conservation organization that works with grassroots organizations and individuals to protect and preserve desert, forest, and aquatic ecosystems.