Mar 022015

Background from WWP

The Bureau of Land Management must go back and try to explain its decision to allow grazing on the Sonoran Desert National Monument, a federal judge has ruled (Western Watersheds Project v. BLM, 13-1028-PHX-PGR, D. Ariz.).

"The BLM has been ordered to file a supplemental report providing the reasoned explanations for its decision or to adopt different decisions by April 24, 2015," said Western Watersheds Project in a news release.

Sierra Club sued BLM with WWP.

“It is clear that the continued livestock grazing in the Sonoran Desert National Monument is unsustainable --  the science supports that,” said Sandy Bahr, Chapter Director for the Grand Canyon (Arizona) Chapter of Sierra Club. “The court recognized that BLM was not meeting its requirements to justify grazing on lands where it is clearly inappropriate and where it causes harm to the things the monument was established to protect, including desert bighorn sheep, pronghorn, desert tortoise, and mule deer."

According to U.S. District Judge Paul Rosenblatt's order (excerpts follow):

"In sum, BLM did not provide an adequate explanation in the record to support its setting of, and/or adustments to, the objectives for the limy fan, sandy wash, limy upland deep, and granitic hills ecological sites. BLM’s setting of these plant community objectives was therefore arbitrary and capricious."

"The Court will therefore grant summary judgment in favor of WWP to the extent it seeks remand to the BLM, but will deny summary judgment, without prejudice to renewal, to the extent WWP seeks to vacate BLM’s decision. The Court will deny BLM’s motion for summary judgment without prejudice to renewal. The Court will remand to BLM to provide it with the opportunity to either articulate reasoned explanations and responses, or adopt different decisions with reasoned explanations that support them."

"For all of the reasons stated above, the Court concludes that BLM has failed to adequately explain some of its decisions that led to the [Land Health Evaluation] and compatibility determinations, and failed to address significant concerns raised in a peer  reviewer’s comments. The LHE is therefore “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law.” 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)."

"However, it appears that BLM may be able to readily cure the defects in its decision-making process if given an opportunity to do so. Accordingly, the Court finds that this is one of those “rare circumstances” in which remand without vacatur is appropriate."

Jan 142015

Two conservation groups have signaled their intention to sue the Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service and Forest Service over approved "take" of 15 grizzly bears in two Biological Opinions.

In a news release issued today, Earthjustice, the law firm representing Western Watersheds Project and Sierra Club, said:

In decisions issued over the past 15 months under the Endangered Species Act, FWS reasoned that approved grizzly killing would remain within sustainable levels. However, FWS, the Park Service and the Forest Service all neglected to consider  the fact that the killing of these 15 grizzlies, when added to the amount of other grizzly “taking” anticipated by FWS around the Yellowstone region, could exceed sustainable levels for females by more than three times, pushing the population into decline.

The notices of intent to sue are available here (for the "no jeopardy" conclusion in the Sept. 13, 2013, addendum to the Biological Opinion on the 2007 Bison and Elk Management Plan for the Jackson Hole National Elk Refuge and Grand Teton National Park) and here (for the "no jeopardy" conclusion in the Biological Opinion for the 2014 Supplement to the 2013 Supplement and 2010 Amendment to the 1999 Biological Assessment for Livestock Grazing on the Northern Portions of the Pinedale Ranger District, 06E13000-2014-F-0040, Sept. 3, 2014).

Full text of press release follows

Federally Approved “Take” of Grizzly Bears Threatens Recovery

Conservationists demand agency consideration of escalating mortality
January 14, 2015
Bozeman, Mont. —Recent federal approvals for the lethal “taking” of 15 grizzly bears in Grand Teton National Park and the Upper Green River area of northwest Wyoming threaten to push grizzly mortalities beyond sustainable levels in the Yellowstone region, according to conservation groups. Today, those groups gave notice of their intent to file suit to protect the grizzlies.Today’s Notice of Intent to Sue by the Sierra Club and Western Watersheds Project, represented by the public-interest environmental law firm Earthjustice, challenges the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“FWS”), National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service over their recent decisions allowing the lethal “take” of 15 grizzly bears.

In decisions issued over the past 15 months under the Endangered Species Act, FWS reasoned that approved grizzly killing would remain within sustainable levels. However, FWS, the Park Service and the Forest Service all neglected to consider  the fact that the killing of these 15 grizzlies, when added to the amount of other grizzly “taking” anticipated by FWS around the Yellowstone region, could exceed sustainable levels for females by more than three times, pushing the population into decline.

“Killing 15 more bears in the Yellowstone region, including even in one of our nation’s premier national parks, could be the straw that breaks the camel’s—or, in this case, the grizzly’s—back,” said Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso. “The Endangered Species Act requires federal officials to look at that big picture, yet they failed to do so.”

“The Fish and Wildlife Service has repeatedly increased the number of grizzly bears that can be killed, without looking at the broader impact on grizzly recovery in the region. Taken together, the anticipated 'take' would exceed the agency’s own limit for female grizzly bear deaths by more than three times,” said Bonnie Rice with Sierra Club’s Our Wild America campaign. "With a slow reproducing animal like the grizzly bear, those numbers would have significant long-term consequences on grizzly recovery."

“The Fish and Wildlife Service has a responsibility to protect the endangered grizzly bear,” said Travis Bruner, Executive Director of Western Watersheds Project. “The Service continues to allow the killing of more bears without presenting sound scientific reasoning that considers the regional impact on the species. We demand that the government rethink its approach, and base its decisions on science rather than politics and the interests of private livestock owners that graze cattle on our public lands.”


Yellowstone-area grizzly bears are listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. Federal biologists acknowledge that the growth of the Yellowstone grizzly bear population level has flattened over the past decade.  At the same time,  the grizzly population has been faced with the loss of two of its most important food sources in the Yellowstone region—whitebark pine seeds and cutthroat trout—due to changing environmental conditions driven in part by a warming climate. In the wake of these changes, scientists have documented the bears’ transition to a more meat-based diet, but that diet leads to a greater potential for conflict with human hunting and livestock grazing activities.

Against this backdrop, FWS in September 2013 authorized the National Park Service to proceed with an elk hunt in Grand Teton National Park that is anticipated to cause the lethal take of four grizzly bears over a nine-year period. Then, in September 2014, FWS authorized the Forest Service to continue livestock grazing operations in the Upper Green River area of the Bridger-Teton National Forest that are anticipated to cause the lethal take of 11 more grizzly bears within any consecutive three-year period through the end of 2019.

In issuing these decisions, FWS reasoned that these impacts to the Yellowstone-area grizzly population would be acceptable because the anticipated bear mortalities would fall within limits established by federal biologists to ensure a sustainable grizzly population that does not slip into decline. However, FWS failed to acknowledge or consider the fact that the Grand Teton and Upper Green “take” determinations, when combined with similar “take” determinations issued by FWS and currently in effect for other actions around the Yellowstone region, anticipate the killing of as many as 65 female grizzly bears in a single year—a level that more than triples FWS’s own established mortality limit.

The conservationists contend that FWS cannot rely on compliance with sustainable grizzly mortality thresholds to justify additional killing of Yellowstone bears unless federal officials consider the impacts of all the grizzly bear mortality they have anticipated across the region.



Sep 302014

The Bureau of Land Management must look closely at the impact of grazing on greater sage-grouse, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill ruled Monday, Sept. 29 (Western Watersheds Project v. Jewell, 08-435-BLW, D. Id.).

Western Watersheds Project called the decision a "big win" and said it's significant for a few reasons.

"Judge Winmill found that the BLM violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by failing to properly disclose the cumulative impacts of its decisions and by failing to consider ending grazing on the allotments in any of the alternatives to proposed management," WWP said in its press release.

"Moreover, Judge Winmill ruled that the BLM must include mandatory terms and conditions to protect sage-grouse, including specific restrictions to address such things as stubble height, stream bank alteration, and utilization. Voluntary measures will not serve."

The judge also said BLM cannot avoid evaluating grazing permits under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, notwithstanding the passage of a congressional rider that exempts permit renewals from NEPA review.

"While § 325 [the congressional rider] tolls the BLM’s obligation to proceed with environmental obligations imposed by laws like NEPA, it carves out an exception for FLPMA and requires a continuing obligation to follow that statute," Winmill wrote.

"BLM is still obliged to consider ongoing environmental degradation and comply with the Fundamentals of Rangeland Health," said WWP. "This is an important precedent because the BLM has a bad habit of allowing harmful status quo grazing to continue while it defers NEPA analysis."

Winmill did not halt grazing while BLM "makes the changes dictated by this decision."


Cumulative impacts  Page 14

"The cumulative impacts analysis in the EA at issue in round two suffers from the same flaws. Once again the sage grouse habitat is degraded – three of the four allotments violated the FRH Standard 8, the Sensitive Species Standard. The cumulative impacts section contains no real discussion of the conditions of sage-grouse in these surrounding allotments.

"This failure is all the more acute because, as will be discussed further below, the BLM is avoiding environmental reviews for many permit renewals. For permits renewed under the 2003 grazing rider, the BLM has taken the position that it need not do any NEPA or FLPMA review. The BLM has now renewed over 150 permits under the rider without any environmental review. The effect of unexamined permit renewals in the area would be critical to determining cumulative impacts.

"The Court recognizes that it must scour the entire EA to determine if the cumulative impact analysis could be enhanced by reading the EA in its entirety and not just focusing on the section labeled “Cumulative Impacts.” See Ctr. for Envtl. Law & Policy v. U.S. BOR, 655 F.3d 1000 (9th Cir. 2011). But the necessary cumulative impacts discussion cannot be found anywhere in the EA.

"For all of these reasons the Court finds that the EA evaluating the four allotments at issue here violated NEPA by failing to contain an adequate cumulative impacts analysis.

NEPA – Failure to Consider Alternatives Including No-Action Alternative Page 15

"This Court held in its decision on the first round of motions that the failure to consider alternatives to the existing grazing levels, and the failure to evaluate a no-grazing alternative, violates NEPA. WWP v. Salazar, supra.

"In this case, the EA failed to identify reasonable alternatives. The existing grazing levels were contributing to sage grouse habitat degradation and yet the EA evaluated no alternative that would have reduced grazing levels and/or increased restrictions on grazing. The Ninth Circuit has recently struck down a NEPA analysis where each alternative permitted grazing at the same level. WWP v. Abbey, 719 F.3d 1035 (9th Cir. 2013). For the same reason, the EA in this case violated NEPA."

Grazing rider - page 18

The parties identify 9 permits that were renewed under the terms of the 2003 grazing rider contained in § 325 of Public Law 108-108. All of these permits govern grazing on allotments outside the Jim Sage allotments. The BLM’s Burley Field Office has used the grazing rider to renew grazing permits without doing any NEPA or FLPMA review in 168 of 200 allotments since 2005.

More quotes from decision

Winmill noted that BLM's 2001 Special Status Species Policy requires that “sensitive” species "be afforded, at a minimum, the same protections as candidate species for listing under the ESA, and makes BLM Field Office managers responsible for implementing the policy." (page 7)

Greater sage grouse populations have been declining for at least 25 years. The 2004 Conservation Assessment, prepared by the leading scientific experts, concluded that every major metric in sage grouse population abundance has declined over the last 50 years. The declining populations are occurring as sage brush habitat disappears. The leading experts concluded in the Idaho Conservation Plan that “[t]he loss and fragmentation of sage-grouse habitat in some parts of Idaho are of major concern.” See Conservation Plan at p. 3-3. The top four causes of this habitat loss and fragmentation in Idaho are (1) wildfire, (2) infrastructure, (3) annual grasses, and (4) livestock impacts. Id. at p. 4-3." (page 6)


Jul 292014

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game says it won't kill wolves in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness on the Payette National Forest.

Western Watersheds Project, which has sued IDFG over its plans, announced the development today. Jeff Gould, chief of the department's wildlife bureau, made the commitment in a declaration filed in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (Maughan v. Vilsack, 14-35043).

"The lawsuit already halted last winter's operations in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, but the agencies had intended to resume this year," WWP said.

"Wiping out two wolf packs without any public participation or environmental review violated the management principles of the Wilderness Act and the National Forest Management Act," WWP said earlier this year, when the hunt was first stopped. "The IDFG was using Forest Service cabins as a base camp for the extermination efforts."

IDFG "claimed that the Golden Pack and the Monumental Pack were reducing elk populations to the detriment of human hunting," WWP said.

In addition to WWP, plaintiffs in the lawsuit include Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity and Wilderness Watch.