Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Court: BLM must better protect sage grouse

Decision came from suit filed by Western Watersheds Project

Express Staff Writer

Sage grouse gather during mating season in a clearing among sagebrush in south-central Idaho. Courtesy photo

    A federal court decision handed down Monday could have far-reaching effects on how the BLM manages livestock grazing within sage-grouse habitat.
    Because of a court-ordered settlement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must decide by the end of 2015 whether to list greater sage grouse under the federal Endangered Species Act.
    Idaho District Judge B. Lynn Winmill’s recent decision was in response to a lawsuit brought by Hailey-based Western Watersheds Project over the renewal of grazing permits by the BLM’s Burley Field Office. The permits were renewed even though the BLM had concluded that livestock grazing had damaged riparian areas and food sources for sage grouse.
     The decision addressed the BLM’s reliance on a 2003 law, passed by Congress as a rider to an appropriations act, which allows renewals of grazing permits before the agency conducts an environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act. Since 2005, the Burley Field Office has used the rider to renew grazing permits for 168 of 200 allotments without doing an environmental review.

BLM should use this as an opportunity to revisit the impacts that livestock grazing is having on sage grouse.”
Todd Tucci
Advocates for the West

    “The BLM was using that to, in effect, exempt grazing from all environmental laws,” said Todd Tucci, senior attorney with Advocates for the West, which brought the suit on behalf of Western Watersheds Project. “The BLM can postpone its environmental review under NEPA, but it cannot ignore its management responsibilities to protect sage grouse.”
    Winmill ruled that the rider does not exempt the BLM from requirements of the Federal Lands Policy and Management Act, which requires multiple-use management and the completion of resource management plans. Winmill stated that the BLM is obliged to consider ongoing environmental degradation and to comply with its own rules on improving rangeland health.
    Though the decision applies only to the Burley Field Office, which covers a large area in south-central Idaho, Western Watersheds Executive Director Travis Bruner said he was “hopeful that this will have broader implications across BLM lands.”
    Cheryl Zwang, spokeswoman for the BLM in Idaho, said the agency is still reviewing the decision and cannot yet comment on its implications.
    Winmill also ruled that when the BLM does conduct an environmental analysis for permits that have been renewed, NEPA requires it to take cumulative impacts into consideration and to consider a no-grazing alternative. His decision states that the BLM did not consider a no-grazing alternative “because, according to BLM, its implementation would not meet the underlying purpose and need for the action to review/modify grazing permits authorizing livestock grazing.”
    The decision remanded the matter to the BLM but did not order a halt to grazing.
    Winmill’s decision was the second of two that involved several grazing allotments as representative cases after Western Watersheds challenged about 600 BLM decisions regarding sage-grouse protection on 40 million acres in Idaho and Nevada. An earlier decision, addressing grazing management by the BLM’s Owyhee and Jarbidge field offices in southwest Idaho, came to similar conclusions, though Tucci called the recent order “more emphatic and more clear.”
    “BLM should use this as an opportunity to revisit the impacts that livestock grazing is having on sage grouse,” he said.

About Comments

Comments with content that seeks to incite or inflame may be removed.

Comments that are in ALL CAPS may be removed.

Comments that are off-topic or that include profanity or personal attacks, libelous or other inappropriate material may be removed from the site. Entries that are unsigned or contain signatures by someone other than the actual author may be removed. We will take steps to block users who violate any of our posting standards, terms of use or any other policies governing this site. Use of this system denotes full acceptance of these conditions. Please review the full rules governing commentaries and discussions. You are fully responsible for the content that you post.

The comments below are from the readers of and in no way represent the views of Express Publishing, Inc.

You may flag individual comments. You may also report an inappropriate or offensive comment by clicking here.

Flagging Comments: Flagging a comment tells a site administrator that a comment is inappropriate. You can find the flag option by pointing the mouse over the comment and clicking the 'Flag' link.

Flagging a comment is only counted once per person, and you won't need to do it multiple times.

Proper Flagging Guidelines: Every site has a different commenting policy - be sure to review the policy for this site before flagging comments. In general these types of comments should be flagged:

  • Spam
  • Ones violating this site's commenting policy
  • Clearly unrelated
  • Personal attacks on others
Comments should not be flagged for:
  • Disagreeing with the content
  • Being in a dispute with the commenter

Popular Comment Threads

 Local Weather 
Search archives:

Copyright © 2023 Express Publishing Inc.   Terms of Use   Privacy Policy
All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited. 

The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.