Online Messenger #293
The U.S. District Court of Idaho ruled in favor of Western Watersheds Project in the second round of litigation of a case challenging 600 grazing permits across 25 million acres. This round focused on four allotments in the Burley Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) of Idaho which are “test cases” for a broader set of grazing decisions that similarly overlooked providing meaningful protections for sage-grouse. (A summary of the round one win is here.) Judge Winmill found that the BLM violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by failing to properly disclose the cumulative impacts of its decisions and by failing to consider ending grazing on the allotments in any of the alternatives to proposed management.
Moreover, Judge Winmill ruled that the BLM must include mandatory terms and conditions to protect sage-grouse, including specific restrictions to address such things as stubble height, stream bank alteration, and utilization. Voluntary measures will not serve.
Additionally, the court issued an important ruling on the use of the congressional rider that allows the automatic renewals of grazing permits without environmental review. The ruling allows that the rider exempts permits from NEPA, but not the Federal Lands Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) and that the BLM is still obliged to consider ongoing environmental degradation and comply with the Fundamentals of Rangeland Health. This is an important precedent because the BLM has a bad habit of allowing harmful status quo grazing to continue while it defers NEPA analysis.
The Department of Interior should take heed of today’s win and realize that protecting and recovering sage-grouse on BLM lands is going to mean doing a lot more than status quo. It is going to require the immediate implementation of seasonal and utilization limits on livestock grazing, rapid improvements in its site-specific management, and a complete overhaul of its rubber stamp for permit renewals.
Many thanks to Todd Tucci at Advocates for the West, and to WWP staff Katie Fite and Ken Cole for this very significant victory! Read the order