Thursday, February 9, 2012

"Grazing Must Yield": Court Decision Protects Sage-Grouse Habitat in Idaho's Owyhee Canyonlands

Boise, ID — A federal court in Idaho issued a strong rebuke of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and required increased protections for Greater sage-grouse across a vast swath of southern Idaho. The ruling on Western Watersheds Project's legal challenge to livestock grazing in Idaho's Owyee Canyonlands found that BLM unlawfully failed to protect the region’s charismatic sage-grouse when it continued livestock grazing without making changes to protect the imperiled bird.

“Instead of acting to conserve sage-grouse, BLM did just the opposite,” said Katie Fite, biodiversity director of Western Watersheds Project, “it conserved cattle at the expense of sage-grouse.”

The action challenged BLM’s renewal of grazing permits on allotments in the BLM’s Owyhee and Bruneau Field Offices.  
Despite admissions that key habitats for sage-grouse were being degraded by livestock on the allotments, BLM persisted in renewing grazing permits at the same levels of use and loosening restrictions on permit holders. This violated BLM's land use plans that require the agency to prioritize sensitive species, and the court held, "To the extend livestock and sage grouse are in conflict, it is grazing that must yield."  The ruling has sweeping implications for the management of hundreds of similar grazing decisions under review.

In its 55-page order, the court found that BLM violated principle environmental laws and policies - including the National Environmental Policy Act, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, and the Fundamentals of Rangeland Health, as well as the agency’s own governing land use plans - in approving unchanged livestock grazing on these public lands. Where the BLM had proposed changes, those changes were largely the addition of fencing which has known adverse impacts to sage grouse.

Western Watersheds Project was represented in this litigation by Todd Tucci of Advocates for the West in Boise.

You can read the opinion by going here.