Western Watersheds Project (WWP) successfully appealed a grazing permit decision issued by the Kingman Field Office, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), because the BLM violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) on the Big Sandy, Los Molinos, and Diamond Joe Allotments (collectively called the “Byner Complex”). The Byner Cattle Company (permittee) is a subsidiary of Freeport-McMoRan Copper Company, one of the world’s largest copper and gold mining companies.
The 98,736 acres of 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 precious riparian areas. The BLM failed to analyze or even disclose the descriptions of the new water facilities, which the court found to be a violation of NEPA.
The OHA decision doesn’t affirm or deny many of WWP’s claims, which included the failures to analyze the effects of invasive species, 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 ongoing degradation of soils, cultural resources, and wildlife habitats. The BLM would be wise to address these issues before its next decision and provide an alternative that would truly protect these public lands.