For Immediate Release
January 18, 2022
Patrick Kelly, Western Watersheds Project, (208) 576-4314
George Nickas, Wilderness Watch, (406) 542-2048 (ext. 4)
SALT LAKE CITY – A judge has blocked a BLM decision that would have allowed for up to a threefold increase in grazing on sensitive lands in the wild Owyhee region of southwestern Idaho. By granting the stay in an Interior law court challenge brought by Western Watersheds Project and Wilderness Watch, the judge provided interim protection to priority sage grouse habitat and to a rare and sensitive wildflower known as Bach’s calicoflower.
“J.R. Simplot is embarking on a hostile takeover of public lands to convert them to industrial-scale beef production,” said Patrick Kelly, Idaho Director for Western Watersheds Project. “This ruling recognizes the fragile and irreplaceable ecological values found in the wild Owyhee country, and also holds the agency accountable for not following its obligations under the law to protect public lands – including sage grouse and rare wildflowers – from degradation at the hands of corporate agriculture conglomerates like J.R. Simplot.”
Dickshooter Cattle Company, a subsidiary of the J.R. Simplot Corporation, applied for a permit to graze in an area that the BLM itself acknowledges as “some of the best sage grouse habitat in southwestern Idaho,” an area already failing Idaho rangeland health standards for water quality and sensitive species. Despite this, J.R. Simplot corporation (via Dickshooter Cattle Co.) requested and BLM granted a permit to increase grazing up to nearly three times the previous actual livestock use of the allotment.
“Given that the grazing allotment in question also contains portions of the federally designated Owyhee River wilderness, the court’s decision provides reprieve from the increased ecological devastation BLM and Simplot have planned for this special place.” said George Nickas, Executive Director of Wilderness Watch.
The judge issued a strong rebuke to the BLM for what she called several “eyebrow raising” features of the agency’s decision, and highlighted the “imprecise, untested, and unanalyzed nature” of BLM’s plan to prevent the ecological damage that will result from such a drastic increase in grazing pressure. Citing the likely extirpation of one population of the rare Bach’s calicoflower, as well as a “direct negative impact” to sage grouse, the judge ruled that the “risk of immediate harm” to resources in the area “from which it may never recover” warrants a stay of BLM’s decision.
The legal appeal is wending its way through the Office of Hearings and Appeals, an administrative law court within the Department of Interior, and was brought by Western Watersheds Project and Wilderness Watch. A second appeal challenging the same decision was brought by Wildlands Defense.