On Friday October 20, 2006 Western Watersheds Project was rewarded in federal District Court in Reno, Nevada when Judge Larry R. Hicks granted WWP’s Motion and Ordered the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to immediately stop any activities associated with a massive chaining and burning project in Elko County on and near Spruce Mountain located about halfway between Wells and Ely. The Judge’s Order was issued one day after a hearing was held at the federal courtroom in Reno.
The Spruce Mountain project is one of the worst examples of efforts by the Bush administration to destroy native vegetation to benefit cattle and sheep ranching on public lands under the guise of preventing catastrophic wildfires. The Spruce Mountain project involved the chaining and burning of thousands of acres of native Pinon-Juniper forests including many old growth forested areas with trees 200 to 400 years old.
The Spruce Mountain project appears to be primarily directed at increasing forage on the public lands for cattle owned by a wealthy Salt Lake City rancher. The BLM was also proposing to install a 90 mile water pipeline costing many hundreds of thousands of dollars at taxpayer expense after the chaining and burning were to be completed to benefit cattle use on and near Spruce Mountain.
Judge Hicks, who was appointed to the federal bench by President George W. Bush, acknowledged in his Order blocking the project that WWP had a probability of winning the case on the merits and had shown the likelihood of irreparable harm to native vegetation and wildlife. Judge Hicks apparently was impressed with photographs provided to the Court by WWP’s Biodiversity Director, Katie Fite, that showed the ancient trees that the BLM was proposing to chain and burn.
The case will now proceed forward to be finally adjudicated, but in the interim the BLM is enjoined from carrying out any part of the project.
WWP is very ably represented in this litigation by attorney Judi Brawer of Boise. Thank you Judi !
Look at the decision (PDF file):
Spruce Mountain TRO October 20, 2006
In late September 2006 WWP filed a new lawsuit in federal court in Boise, Idaho challenging three grazing decisions that authorized livestock grazing on two allotments in Idaho and two in northwestern Utah. The case was assigned to Chief Judge B. Lynn Winmill.
The litigation charges that the Sawtooth and Boise National Forests violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by issuing grazing decision under a categorical exclusion (CX) without doing a more substantive Environmental Assessment. On three of the allotments the two Forests relied on a Bush administration legislative rider that permits the use of the unappealable CX but only if certain very specific conditions are met including that the allotments in question are meeting or making progress toward meeting Forest Plan Standards for landscape and stream health. In no case did the agency show that the allotments were meeting this requirement.
The case also claims violations of the National Forest Management Act (NFMA) by authorizing livestock use in violation of the respective Forest’s Land and Resource Management Plans (the Forest Plan) by failing to analyze the site-specific capability of the lands within each of these allotments to sustain livestock grazing at all.
Just to give an example of the problems the Forests face in doing this kind of analysis, one of the four allotments, the Gooding Allotment on the Fairfield District of the Sawtooth National Forest, only has about 25% of its land area capable of supporting livestock grazing by cattle according to the Forest Plan. In its decision the Fairfield District completely ignored this information.
WWP expects to prevail in this litigation and is ably represented by attorneys Laurie Rule of Advocates For The West’s Boise office and WWP’s lead attorney, Laird Lucas. Thank you Laurie and Laird !!
On September 21, 2006 in response to litigation filed by WWP’s sister organization in Oregon, the Oregon Natural Desert Association the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in a 2-1 decision (for publication) signed by Circuit Court Judges A. Wallace Tashima and Richard A. Paez (a dissent was filed by Judge Ferdinand F. Fernandez) declared that Forest Service Annual Operating Instructions (AOIs) for livestock grazing are final decisions subject to appeal and litigation.
WWP and other groups interested in the administration of Forest Service public lands have been stymied for years by the Forest Service’s claims that AOIs are not final decisions even though they direct annual grazing management often in great detail. This decision will enable a whole new opportunity to influence and change for-the-better the administration of public lands ranching on Forest Service lands in seven western states located within the Ninth Circuit’s jurisdiction.
WWP would like to extend thanks to ONDA and their attorneys, Kristin Ruether, Mac Lacey and Stephanie Parent for this great decision. Thank you !!