This remarkable court victory for WWP affects 28 BLM grazing allotments located southwest of Twin Falls, Idaho to the Nevada border in the Jarbidge Field Office of the BLM. The majority of the cattle to be removed belong to the largest public land rancher in the United States, 96 year old billionaire J.R. Simplot. The Order by Chief Judge B. Lynn Winmill finds that in issuing new ten year permits for livestock grazing on the over 800,000 acres of public lands that the BLM violated both the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Federal Land Policy And Management Act (FLPMA). Judge Winmill concluded that the BLM must carry our a full Environmental Impact Statement on the entire landscape of the 28 allotments, and that the irreparable harm that would occur to sage grouse (a BLM sensitive species) if grazing continued warranted an immediate injunction ending all livestock use on all the allotments.
WWP extends grateful thanks for this unprecedented and successful litigation to our attorneys on this case: Laird Lucas and Todd Tucci of Advocates For The West's Boise Office. Additionally, the case could never have been successfully litigated without the long-term hard work of WWP's Biodiversity Director, Katie Fite. Thanks to all!
Here is the story from the front page above the fold of the Twin Falls Times-News of Tuesday August 2, 2005. (Access the full story online at http://www.magicvalley.com/articles/2005/08/02/news_topstory/news_topsto...)
By Michelle Dunlop
JARBIDGE, Nev. --
Livestock grazing on roughly 800,000 acres of public lands in the Jarbidge area will come to a halt under an order issued Friday in district court.
District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill rendered his decision on a lawsuit brought by Western Watersheds Project against the Bureau of Land Management over the agency's handling of grazing permits for 28 allotments in the Jarbidge Resource Area. The environmental group had claimed that the BLM violated federal policies as well as the agency's own guidelines when it increased grazing levels in the area -- a move that compromises sage grouse and other wildlife habitat, Western Watersheds said.
"I think this is the first time a court has halted grazing because of its impact on sage grouse," said Laird Lucas, attorney for Western Watersheds Project. "I think the court is very clear that grazing needs to stop and to stop right now."
Affected livestock permitees could not be reached for comment. On Monday afternoon, BLM officials were unable to comment on Winmill's decision.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided not to list sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act. However, the species is still considered sensitive, Winmill said in his decision. Winmill noted that by BLM's own accounts, sage grouse numbers have declined dramatically in the Jarbidge Resource Area. The agency is bound by its own management plan to prioritize wildlife and watershed needs over that of allowing livestock use increases, Winmill said.
The judge took issue with the agency's increases of grazing permits on the 28 allotments. The BLM had argued that it increased grazing by only 8 percent. The agency, Winmill wrote, arrived at that number by comparing approved grazing levels with actual grazing levels from a previous year. Winmill, however, found the BLM's actions would increase grazing by 83 percent.
Winmill found the BLM's methods of analyzing rangeland health lacking. The agency has issued four environmental assessments examining just less than half of the 1.7 million acres of public lands in the Jarbidge Recreation Area. Each of the assessments looked at distant allotments, in a "patchwork-quilt manner," Winmill said. The BLM's "incremental allotment-by-allotment approach" leaves the agency unable to determine the environmental impact of increased grazing in light of the dramatic decline in sage grouse.
"That question cannot be answered because nobody has looked at the big picture here," Winmill said.
Therefore, Winmill ordered that the BLM prepare a comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement before grazing can be considered again on the 28 allotments.
Times-News reporter Michelle Dunlop can be reached at 735-3237 or by e-mail at email@example.com.