Western Watersheds Project's Arizona Office has been granted Summary Judgment by Administrative Law Judge Harvey C. Sweitzer in a successful appeal of a grazing permit decision issued by the Kingman Field Office, Bureau of Land Management. Judge Sweitzer agreed with WWP that the BLM violated the National Environmental Policy Act on the Big Sandy, Los Molinos, and Diamond Joe Allotments (collectively called the "Byner Complex").
The successful Appeal and Motion for Summary Judgment were written by WWP’s Arizona Director Greta Anderson.
The rancher on the allotments is not a ranching family at all but a subsidiary of Freeport-McMoRan Copper Company, the Byner Cattle Company. Freeport-McMoRan is one of the world’s largest copper and gold mining companies (http://www.fcx.com/ ).
The 98,736 acres of public lands in the Byner Complex encompass a range of vegetation communities, including Joshua trees and saguaros, and provide habitat for Southwestern willow flycatcher, bald eagle, yellow-billed cuckoo, Sonoran desert tortoise, and other native and imperiled wildlife. The Big Sandy River passes through the Big Sandy allotment, and numerous seeps and springs and ephemeral washes occur on all of the allotments.
The Byner Complex of allotments has some serious rangeland health issues, and the proposed action sought to limit livestock impacts in some key areas by moving livestock to new unexploited areas through the development of new water sources. To do this, the BLM had proposed building five new wells, eleven new troughs, twelve new miles of pipeline and fifteen new miles of fence, which all could have extensive effects on the landscape and the riparian areas. The BLM failed to analyze or even disclose the descriptions of the new water facilities. Administrative Law Judge Sweitzer found the BLM’s behavior to be in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act.
This legal decision remands the final grazing decision to the Kingman, Arizona field office of the BLM to redo its analysis before issuing a new grazing decision.
The new analysis will need to address the failures of the BLM to analyze many issues including the effects on native ecosystems of invasive species introduced by livestock, the inadequacies of setting rangeland health goals based on existing conditions, the failure to exclude grazing in sensitive riparian areas, the failure to consider effects to imperiled species, and the existing degraded condition of soils, cultural resources, and wildlife habitats.
WWP anticipates a more complete and detailed analysis of the Byner Complex allotments by the BLM the next time around !