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Conservationists file suit over biased Interior Department grazing decision

For Immediate Release
January 29, 2019


Jonathan Ratner, Western Watersheds Project, (877) 746-3628
Laird Lucas, Advocates for the West, (208) 342-7024

BOISE, Ida.—Western Watersheds Project filed a lawsuit in federal court today against the Department of Interior’s Board of Land Appeals (IBLA) and the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI).  The lawsuit aims to overturn the IBLA’s Duck Creek decision, which demonstrated biased decision-making in favor of ranchers and ignored IBLA’s own long-held precedent.

The IBLA overturned a favorable decision from the Office of Hearings and Appeals. “Western Watersheds Project provided more than 250 hours of expert testimony showing that the Bureau of Land Management had allowed excessive and damaging grazing on the Duck Creek allotment, and we won after a nine-month trial at the Office of Hearings and Appeals,” said Jonathan Ratner, Utah Director with Western Watersheds Project. “But then the IBLA stepped in and arbitrarily overturned the decision. Our lawsuit seeks to overturn this IBLA ruling which grants BLM unlimited ability to ignore outside science, and turns OHA and IBLA into kangaroo courts.”

The Duck Creek allotment historically provided vital habitat for many iconic wildlife species including mule deer, elk, pronghorn antelope and greater sage-grouse. Despite its importance to wildlife, the BLM has allowed livestock grazing to substantially degrade the ecological conditions of the Duck Creek allotment.  WWP’s experts collected an extensive amount of monitoring data, which the ALJ found persuasive at the initial Duck Creek hearing.  But the IBLA overturned the initial decision, and set a precedent that essentially allows BLM to ignore any and all outside experts and scientific data if it contradicts the agency’s own narrative.

“The IBLA has repeatedly proved itself to be biased against conservationists, and we have had to get it reversed by the federal courts before,” said Laird J. Lucas, Executive Director of Advocates for the West, lead attorney for WWP.  “The IBLA clearly erred in reversing the ALJ decision, and ignored its own precedent.  We are asking the federal court to again remind the IBLA that its duty is to apply the law and facts fairly, not stack the decks against conservationists seeking proper management of the public lands.

“Prior to Duck Creek, the IBLA held that conservation groups wouldn’t succeed by poking holes in the agency science alone.  But when WWP took the initiative of bringing in its own extensive monitoring data and rigorous analysis, the IBLA changed the rules,” said Megan Backsen, an attorney working on the lawsuit.  “The Duck Creek decision sets a dangerous precedent that effectively bars conservationists from ever being successful before IBLA, and it needs to be overturned.”

Western Watersheds Project is represented by Advocates for the West and attorney Megan Backsen in the lawsuit.


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