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For the week of May 17 through May 23, 2000

Ranching groups
lose appeal

The decision is a victory for conservationists like Idaho Watersheds Project director and Hailey resident Jon Marvel.


WASHINGTON—Ruling against ranching and farming groups, the Supreme Court has upheld changes to federal livestock grazing rules that will affect grazing on millions of acres of federal Bureau of Land Management-managed land.

The justices on Monday unanimously ruled against ranchers' and farmers' arguments that rules adopted in 1995 by the Department of Interior violate a 66-year-old law and threaten their livelihood.

The decision is a victory for conservationists like Idaho Watersheds Project director and Hailey resident Jon Marvel. Marvel has been fighting public lands ranching for what he deems to be environmentally harmful grazing practices.

The high court’s decision enables conservationists like Marvel to obtain BLM grazing leases for the purpose of resting the land.

Marvel was unavailable for comment late yesterday.

Idaho Sen. Larry Craig was apparently disgruntled by the decision.

"While I am disappointed by the court’s decision today, this does not end the fight," he wrote in a Monday press release. "Farmers and ranchers must work now with Congress to help change the laws that the Supreme Court believes give the secretary such broad rule making power, or they can work to get a new secretary!"

Writing for the court, Justice Stephen G. Breyer said federal law gives the Secretary of Interior "broad discretionary powers'' to set grazing rules. The system for allocating land before 1995, which "the ranchers seek to safeguard, did not offer them anything like absolute security,'' Breyer said.

More than 20,000 livestock producers have grazing permits on about 170 million acres of federal rangeland in 13 states, including large parts of Nevada, Utah, Oregon, Wyoming and Idaho.

Since 1934, federal land grazing has been regulated by the Department of Interior. Those with permits got preference for renewal when the permit expired, and permit holders could own fences or other structures they built on public land.

In 1995, the Interior Department announced revised rules intended to improve management and protection of federally owned land. Those are the rules the court upheld Monday.

The 1995 rules initiated mandatory conformation with land-use plans, dropped requirement that permit applicants be in the livestock business, and gave the government title to new fences and other permanent improvements built by permit-holders.

The rules were challenged in federal court by the Public Lands Council, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and others.

A federal judge in Wyoming threw out the aforementioned rules, but the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated them.

Now, the Supreme Court said the 10th Circuit court was right.

"Congress itself has directed development of land-use plans, and their use in the allocation process, in order to preserve, improve and develop the public rangelands,'' Breyer wrote for the court. "And the secretary (of Interior) has always had the statutory authority ... to reclassify and withdraw range land from grazing use.''

Permit holders still are free to bring individual challenges to changes in grazing privileges, Breyer said.


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