Big Horns: Court upholds plan
Sheridan — In an Aug. 31, 2009 ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Clarence Brimmer upheld the Big Horn National Forest Plan Revision. In the case, Western Watersheds Project (WWP) v. United States Forest Service, et al., WWP’s primary focus alleged the Forest Service failed to consider livestock grazing alternatives in the revised Bighorn National Forest Plan.
Represented by Attorney Dan Frank, the defendant interveners in the case included the counties of Bighorn, Johnson and Washakie, the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation, the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, the Muddy Creek Grazing Association and Joe Foss. Other supporters in this lawsuit were the Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts and Guardians of the Range.
“The counties worked very hard to obtain cooperating agency status to gain the Forest Service’s cooperation in the Bighorn Forest Plan Revision and wanted to ensure the hard work and resources they put into the several-year process encompassed by the Plan Revision would not be undone by the Western Watersheds Project lawsuit,” says Attorney Dan Frank. “The Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation, Wyoming Stock Growers Association, Muddy Creek Grazing Association and Joe Foss also wanted to protect the counties’ work and protect as much as they could of livestock grazing on the Bighorn National Forest, which seems to be under continual pressure from groups like Western Watersheds Project as well as the Forest Service itself.”
“The interveners were not confident the Forest Service would protect their interests, so they intervened to protect themselves,” he continues. According to the court decision, WWP asserted the Forest Service failure to consider grazing alternatives was arbitrary and capricious. To support this assertion, WWP had requested the Court look at Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) from different forest plans. The Court upheld the decision denying this request, stating EIS’s from other national forests are unrelated and would provide no useful information.
Judge Brimmer wrote in his ruling: “To use an EIS piecemeal in the fashion requested by WWP is disingenuous, and the Court refuses to utilize portions of those EIS’s absent the context in which the alternatives were considered.”
According to the court decision, another assertion by WWP was that since the Forest Service had considered grazing alternatives in the 1985 Bighorn National Forest Plan, then they should have again in 2005. According to the document, the 1985 plan called for an output of 143,000 AUMs each year with a projected annual output of 144,000 AUMs for the years 2000 to 2030.
In the 31-page ruling Judge Brimmer wrote: “…what the Forest Service did 20 years prior to implementing the Revised Plan is irrelevant to the question of whether the Forest Service complied with NEPA in 2005.”
“Livestock grazing on the Forest has evolved to be based upon a desired condition, rather than an output of AUMs. By focusing on the desired condition of the Bighorn National Forest, instead of a specific output of AUMs, the Forest Service is better able to determine which areas need additional conservation and which areas can sustain higher levels of grazing,” Brimmer continues.
The court ruling also affirmed the Forest Service met the “hard look” requirement of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Judge Brimmer wrote: “The Court is convinced sufficient information existed in the administrative record regarding the detrimental and advantageous effects of livestock grazing for the Forest Service to make an informed decision. Simply because WWP may not like the ultimate outcome does not mean that the Forest Service was in violation of the law.”
“The Forest Service did vigorously defend the Bighorn Forest Plan Revision as did the defendant-interveners and the State of Wyoming through a friend of the court brief,” Frank states. “I am pleased that we were able to show Judge Brimmer the livestock grazing aspect of the Forest Plan Revision was thoroughly analyzed and the alternatives were considered. That is what the law required and the counties and Forest Service met that requirement. Everyone’s efforts paid off.”
“The counties and users of the forest will still have to hold Forest Service’s feet to the fire to make sure they implement the Plan Revision, but it was nice to be able to cooperate with the Forest Service in beating back the Western Watersheds Project’s challenge,” Frank concludes.
It is unknown at this time if WWP will appeal this ruling. They have 60 days to make that determination.
Article by Kerin Clark, courtesy of the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation.