Western Watersheds challenges recently complete RMPs
Casper – Stating that the documents do too little to protect sage grouse populations, Western Watersheds Project (WWP) has filed a complaint challenging Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Resource Management Plans (RMP) in six western states, Wyoming included.
Recently completed RMPs for the Kemmerer, Rawlins, Casper and Pinedale resource areas are included in the group’s legal challenge that calls for the agency to consider a “no grazing” alternative. The lawsuit was filed in Idaho and has been assigned to Judge Winmill, a judge who has heard several other cases brought by WWP. With headquarters in Idaho and a Wyoming field office, WWP is an activist group that opposes domestic livestock grazing on western public lands.
“We’ve made a decision to intervene,” says Wyoming Stock Growers Executive Vice President Jim Magagna of the lawsuit in which the State of Wyoming is also seeking to intervene. “What they’re claiming, as they do in a lot of these lawsuits, is that the BLM continues to allow harmful livestock grazing and failed to look at the adverse affects of grazing, particularly on sage grouse habitat and populations,” says Magagna. He says that while the lawsuit does mention mineral extraction that it’s primary focus is livestock grazing.
“They always point to the fact that they didn’t consider a ‘no grazing’ alternative in their resource management plans,” he says. While work on the defense is underway, Magagna says his group’s attorneys will first cite potential economic impacts to the livestock community to earn standing in court.
He further explains, “An RMP does not authorize any activity. It only determines what types of activities are permissible and what array of land uses is allowable. In the RMP it is not necessary to consider a ‘no grazing’ alternative.” Magagna points out, “The RMP doesn’t authorize any grazing. That comes later through a permit and an allotment management plan.”
WSGA, as are other western livestock organizations, is involved in another lawsuit filed in California by WWP challenging the use of Categorical Exclusions on 386 forest service permits across the western United States. As set forth by the National Environmental Procedures Act (NEPA), Categorical Exclusions can be used in circumstances where the deciding agency sees little to no environmental impact.
The original lawsuit over categorical exclusions on 386 permits could have affected 90 Wyoming permit holders, but was later scaled back to 21 permit holders including one Wyoming permit holder. Magagna says that lawsuit has now been further reduced to five permit holders. He’s waiting to hear if any of those five are within Wyoming.
“The government and the plaintiffs agreed to do a trial on five allotments and based on that outcome move forward,” says Magagna. WSGA wasn’t granted intervener status in the case, but allowed to be a party to the remedy phase.
Anytime lawsuits are pursued, it’s expensive, but Magagna points out, “Thanks to our members and supporters, we can enter a lawsuit.” Of the organization’s legal fund he says, “We still encourage donations to keep the fund up as we recognize there will be additional lawsuits.”
Jennifer Womack is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at email@example.com.