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Western Watersheds Project v. Salazar

United States District Court for the District of Idaho
843 F.Supp.2d 1105 (2012)


Facts

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) (defendant) issued the Fundamentals of Rangeland Health (FRH) regulations, establishing a framework for evaluating and improving the condition of land used for grazing. Under the FRH regulations, BLM state directors developed regional rangeland-health standards that applied to grazing permits. In the event of a violation of the regional standards, the FRH regulations required the BLM to take “appropriate action” as soon as practicable, defined as action that would result in significant progress toward meeting the standards. Idaho’s standards defined “significant progress” as measurable or observable changes in indicators of improved rangeland health. The FRH regulations also required the BLM to include terms and conditions in permits that ensured compliance with the BLM’s duty to take appropriate action resulting in significant progress. The BLM implemented an adaptive-management program under which the BLM monitored goals “over time,” defined as more than one incident of non-compliance with annual indicator criteria. The BLM did not mandate a consequence for continuing violations. The BLM’s Idaho field offices issued permit renewals for five allotments. A resource-management plan (RMP) for the Owyhee area, adopted under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA), 43 U.S.C. §§ 1701 et seq., only allowed livestock grazing that was compatible with the protection of sensitive species. Despite widespread violations of Idaho’s standards, the BLM loosened permit restrictions and maintained use levels during critical seasons for the sage grouse, a bird threatened by habitat loss caused by grazing. Although the BLM prepared environmental assessments for the permit renewals as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 4321 et seq., the assessments did not contain sufficient analysis of the cumulative impacts. The Western Watersheds Project (WWP) (plaintiff) filed suit against the BLM, challenging the permit renewals on the basis that the BLM had failed to protect the sage grouse. WWP moved for partial summary judgment.

Rule of Law

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Issue

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Holding and Reasoning (Winmill, C.J.)

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