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Lots of Great News From WWP

There has been a lot of great news for Western wildlife in the recent weeks. Western Watersheds Project has been succesful with many important court cases and has kept oversight of land managers going strong:

Western Watersheds Project Wins A New Review
For Pygmy Rabbits

Pygmy Rabbit
Photo © U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

In late September 2007 Federal District Judge Edward Lodge of the District of Idaho agreed with WWP and issued an Order overturning the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision not to review the status of pygmy rabbits under the Endangered Species Act. Judge Lodge remanded the issue to the USFWS for a new review.

You can review Judge Lodge’s Order at: pygmysjorder.pdf (PDF)

Here is an article about that Court Order from the Jackson Hole News and Guide:

Judge: Reassess pygmy rabbit

By Noah Brenner
Date: October 5, 2007

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must reconsider the pygmy rabbit for listing under the Endangered Species Act, a federal judge in Idaho ruled last week. Though there are no pygmy rabbits in Teton County, the decision could have grave implications for the future of energy development in Sublette County, south of Jackson Hole.

U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge found that Fish and Wildlife officials lacked sufficient scientific evidence to determine whether the animal warranted federal protection. The agency had ruled in a 2004 decision that the rabbit did not merit protection, but a host of environmental groups, including Western Watersheds Project and Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, took the decision to court.

Click Link Above for the whole story.

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Western Watersheds Project Posts Pass Creek Allotment Grazing Tour Videos On YouTube and Boone Creek and Copper Basin Allotment Tour Photos on the WWP Web Site

See how your land management agencies are managing public lands ranching on the Lost River Ranger District of the Salmon-Challis National Forest !!

Unnamed tributary of Wet Creek in the Lost River Range – Bull Trout Habitat


Western Watersheds Project Wins A Precedent Setting Decision on The Nickel Creek Allotment in Owyhee County, Idaho

On September 28, 2007 U.S. Department of the Interior Administrative Law Judge Andrew Pearlstein issued a remarkable 124 page decision agreeing with WWP’s Appeal of the Owyhee BLM’s grazing decision on the 67,000 acre Nickel Creek Allotment (and the much smaller Nickel Creek FFR (“fenced federal range”) allotment) located in Owyhee County, Idaho. The allotment has critical habitat for sage grouse and has experienced severe degradation from mismanaged cattle use.

Judge Pearlstein found that the BLM had violated its own grazing regulations as well as the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). He also established interim grazing requirements for the Nickel Creek allotment until the BLM can issue a new grazing decision in keeping with his decision. The Judge’s conclusions from page 121 of his decision are as follows:

1. BLM’s Assessments and Determinations properly established that the ecological conditions on the Allotments failed to meet any of the applicable Idaho standards for rangeland health.

2. BLM’s Final Decision unreasonably relied upon inadequate data and unsupported assumptions to perpetuate a stocking rate that exceeds the carrying capacity of the Allotments, in violation of 43 C.F.R. 4130.3-1(a).

3. The Final Decision will not result in making significant progress toward meeting the standards of rangeland health, as required by 43 C.F.R. 41802(c).

4. The EA and Final Decision did not comply with NEPA in failing to adequately consider the light use alternative, and failing to discuss the RMP/EIS’s projection of a 30% reduction in AUMs for the Nickel Creek Allotment.

This very important decision will enable WWP to bring about needed changes in management on hundreds of additional BLM grazing allotments across the west.

Readers interested in this important precedential decision may review it on the WWP web site at this URL (but please keep in mind that because the file is a scanned PDF file it is quite large at about 4.7 MB so a very long download for all but broadband internet connections): (PDF)

Western Watersheds Project Wins a Stay On The Ord Mountain Allotment in Southern California Protecting Critical Habitat For The Desert Tortoise

Grizzly Bear
Photo © U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

WWP would like to thank Dr. Mike Connor, WWP’s California Science Director, Greta Anderson, WWP’s Arizona Director and Todd Shuman, WWP’s California Director for this win in critical habitat for desert tortoise ! Thanks to all !

Interested readers can find Judge Sweitzer’s Decision at the WWP web site here (PDF).

Judge prevents BLM from extending grazing rights

October 2, 2007 – 6:14PM

A federal judge issued a temporary order on Monday preventing the Bureau of Land Management from increasing the number of cattle a local ranch can graze on 136,000 acres, just north of Lucerne Valley.

Conservation groups sued the BLM over concerns that desert tortoises and other endangered species could lose their habitats due to the grazing cattle. Under the current lease, the BLM is allowed to let the nearby Shield F Ranch graze up to 175 cows on public lands near the Ord Mountains. The area includes 117,000 acres of desert tortoise habitat. Shield F currently has about 25 cows on the land.

Michael Conner, California science director with the Western Watersheds Project, one of the conservation groups behind the lawsuit, said he was pleased with the decision. He said feels the land needs time to recover from the effects of past grazing. “We’re very happy with this ruling because the judge is basically agreeing that our case has merit,” he said.

Conner said that grazing cattle can trample tortoises, tortoise eggs as well as burrows. He said other endangered species such as the big-horned sheep and Mojave monkey flower could also be at risk.

Click above for full article.

Western Watersheds Project Files Litigation Against The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service For Its Failure to Issue A 90 Day Finding Or A Twelve Month Status Review of WWP’s Petition To List the Big Lost River Whitefish Under The Endangered Species Act

Big Lost River Whitefish
Photo © Idaho Department of Fish and Game

After almost 16 months of intransigence by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Western Watersheds Project has filed litigation in federal District Court in Idaho to force the agency to comply with federal law and respond to WWP’s Petition To List the Big Lost River Whitefish under the protections of the Endangered Species Act.

Because the agency is in direct violation of the law, WWP expects a quick settlement of this case with a court ordered schedule for the agency to comply with the law.

These delays in meeting the requirements of the Endangered Species Act have become the norm under the current administration as they seek to delay all protections for wildlife that are at risk of extinction.

WWP is ably represented in this litigation by attorney Judi Brawer of Boise, Idaho. Thank you Judi !

Readers interested in reviewing the WWP Complaint can find it on the WWP web site at this URL: (PDF)

WWP’s Payette National Forest Litigation Ends The 2007 Trailing of Domestic Sheep On Cuddy Mountain Adjacent To The Hells Canyon National Recreation

Bighorn Sheep

Western Watersheds Project and our co-plaintiff the Hells Canyon Preservation Council won another victory in late September 2007 on the Payette National Forest without a Judge’s Order when the Shirts Brothers Sheep Ranch folded its opposition and agreed not to trail domestic sheep near the Cuddy Mountain bighorn herd. This change in domestic sheep use will prevent any risk of disease transmission to Rocky Mountain Bighorns on Cuddy Mountain.

The most recent filings in this WWP litigation are declarations from the Shirts Brothers and a revised Annual Operating Plan from the Payette National Forest that can be found on the WWP web site here: (PDF)
And here: (PDF)

Additionally this litigation is the subject of a front page article in the current issue of High Country News by Nathaniel Hoffman and entitled “Sheep vs. Sheep”. Interested readers can review that lengthy article at the HCN web site here:

This major WWP effort to protect bighorn sheep is continuing as WWP and HCPC will be seeking a court Order blocking all domestic sheep use on the only domestic sheep grazing allotment on the Nez Perce National Forest for the 2007-2008 winter use period.

That Motion will be filed this month as turn-out for domestic sheep on the Allison-Berg allotment is scheduled for December 2007. The allotment is located a few miles east of Riggins, Idaho on the north side of the Salmon River adjacent to the Gospel Hump Wilderness Area. Bighorn Sheep of the remnant Frank Church Wilderness population have been sighted near that allotment in 2007.

Thanks to WWP’s attorney in this case, Laurie Rule who is doing a tremendous job and to WWP Western Idaho Director Debra Ellers and Western Idaho Data Specialist Dale Grooms for their great work to protect Bighorns !

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