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Victory on Duck Creek!

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A solid victory was declared on May 16, 2013 in the long-running legal battle between Western Watersheds Project and Wild Utah Project versus the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) over the Duck Creek allotment in Rich County, Utah. Years of legal wrangling, hard work, extensive hearings and field monitoring of these public lands in northern Utah paid off with a decisive win from Administrative Law Judge James H. Heffernan.

The court reversed and remanded BLM’s illegal 2008 Final Decision and Environmental Assessment. Monday’s ruling found that BLM broke the law by failing to provide for proper public involvement, by failing to properly assess cumulative impacts, and, importantly, that BLM never even knew how many cows were on the allotment, making it impossible to accurately assess the impacts livestock were having. In addition, the court found that BLM failed to adequately assess the multiple impacts of its decision upon sage grouse; by its own testimony BLM did not even know where the sage grouse were located on the allotment!

With respect to the condition of wildlife species habitats, BLM failed completely to observe and comply with its own standards, and failed to take the requisite “hard look” in the EA at the impacts of lower levels of grasses on the allotment than were called for under the ecological site descriptions. Finally, the court found that BLM incorrectly concluded that the grazing impacts on the uplands of new water troughs would not be measurable, and, therefore, BLM did not adequately analyze the new infrastructure.

This win reflects an amazing amount of hard work and tenacity by WWP and co-appellants. Jim Catlin of Wild Utah Project and Dr. John Carter, former Utah Director of WWP, collected more than 1600 samples over five years to demonstrate that BLM was allowing excessive grazing to occur, including up to 90 percent utilization of all the grasses in the riparian areas. (See the comprehensive report) The BLM’s qualitative assessments fail to capture these kinds of impacts.

WWP sincerely hopes that Monday’s ruling reforms BLM’s fundamentally improper way of measuring land health and improves habitat for all the species that depend on America’s public lands.

Our many thanks extend to Attorney Judi Brawer, our co-appellants, and WWP staff and board for supporting and enabling this important victory.

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