Western Watersheds Project v. Bureau of Land Management

Civ. No. 08-0506-E-BLW (2009)

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Western Watersheds Project v. Bureau of Land Management

United States District Court for the District of Idaho
Civ. No. 08-0506-E-BLW (2009)

Facts

The Bureau of Land Management (bureau) (defendant) conducted an analysis of the environmental condition of the Owyhee Resource Area pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The bureau concluded that the water quality of the Nickel Creek area in Owyhee did not meet bureau standards and guidelines for Idaho, which were developed in accordance with the Fundamentals of Rangeland Health regulations. The bureau determined that livestock-grazing management was a significant factor in the failure to meet the bureau’s established standards. Consequently, the bureau devised two strategies to improve water conditions in the Nickel Creek area: a grazing rotation schedule and utilization limitations. The bureau issued a final decision that concluded significant progress would be made toward meeting the standards for the area. In addition, the bureau issued 10-year grazing permits for the Nickel Creek area. Western Watersheds Project (watersheds project) (plaintiff) challenged the bureau’s final decision before a Department of the Interior administrative-law judge, Judge Pearlstein. Judge Pearlstein conducted a 15-day evidentiary hearing and issued a 125-page decision. Judge Pearlstein held that the final decision would not make significant progress toward meeting the bureau’s standards and guidelines for Idaho and thus the decision violated the Fundamentals of Rangeland Health regulations. Both the watersheds project and the bureau appealed Judge Pearlstein’s decision to the Interior Board of Land Appeals (board). The board reversed Judge Pearlstein’s rulings. The board mischaracterized Judge Pearlstein’s decision in holding that Judge Pearlstein held that excessive cattle were alone responsible for the poor conditions in the Nickel Creek area. In fact, Judge Pearlstein’s decision was based on five main factors, but the board ignored four of the factors. The board also held that the bureau was entitled to rely on experts while ignoring the fact that Judge Pearlstein’s ruling was based on experts from the bureau and the bureau’s own reports and actions. The watersheds project filed suit to appeal the board’s decision and moved for summary judgment, arguing that the board’s decision was arbitrary and capricious.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Winmill, J.)

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