Great Basin sage-grouse

Great Basin sage-grouse

Current Status:
WON

Case Title:
WWP v. Kempthorne, No. 08-cv-435-BLW (D. Idaho)

Staff attorney(s):
Todd Tucci

Client(s):

Western Watersheds Project

To Protect:

Greater Sage-Grouse

Date won/settled:
September 29, 2014

States:
Idaho
Nevada

Case Information:

This large case challenges several hundred grazing permits, oil and gas leases, and other land management decisions approved by BLM during the last years of the Bush Administration, which individually and together harm the Great Basin core population of greater sage-grouse in Idaho and Nevada.

BLM violated basic federal environmental laws — including the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) — in approving these actions without any comprehensive environmental review of their impacts on sage-grouse and sagebrush habitats; and without following BLM’s own policies requiring it to conserve sensitive species and maximize protection of remaining sagebrush.

More than 10 million acres of public lands are covered by litigation, including in BLM’s Owyhee, Bruneau, and Burley Field Offices in Idaho; and the Elko, Ely, Winnemucca, and Battle Mountain Field Offices in Nevada.

On February 6, 2012, the federal court in Idaho issued a strong rebuke of the BLM in Advocates for the Wests Great Basin sage-grouse case, and required increased protections for Greater sage-grouse across a vast swath of southern Idaho.  In its 55-page order, the court found that BLM violated our principle environmental laws and policies – including the National Environmental Policy Act, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, and the Fundamentals of Rangeland Health, as well as the governing land use plans – in approving status quo grazing in southwestern Idaho.

More specifically, the court first held that BLM violated NEPA by ignoring the cumulative impacts of its grazing decisions on populations and habitat for the Greater sage-grouse, an endemic bird whose populations are crashing and habitat is being destroyed.  The court next found that BLM’s proposed measures to protect sage-grouse – including increased grazing; more fences, pipelines and other wildland developments; and eliminating most measurable standards governing grazing – would harm sage-grouse populations in the Owyhee and Bruneau Field Offices, in violation of the Fundamentals.

Most importantly, perhaps, the court also held that BLM’s governing land use plans require the agency to prioritize sage-grouse habitat above livestock grazing, and the court held that if grazing and sage-grouse are in conflict, “it is grazing that must yield.”

In 2013, Advocates for the West’s Senior Staff Attorney Todd Tucci took on the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for violating federal laws as well as its own management plans and regulations.
Historically the Greater sage-grouse ranged across 12 western states and 3 Canadian provinces, interconnected by sagebrush habitat. Now gone from several states and continuing to dwindle, the current range is 44% of the historic range.

Five allotments in southwestern Idaho’s Bruneau and Owyhee Field Offices, totaling almost 327,000 acres of mostly BLM-administered public lands, contain key habitat for the Greater sage-grouse. BLM decided to continue grazing on these already degraded public lands, finding no significant impact to the sage-grouse population, despite scientific evidence to the contrary.

BLM failed to consider the landscape as a whole and that sage-grouse travel between field offices. BLM also failed to listen to their own biologists when it was shown that the degradation occurring was due to livestock overgrazing. Instead, BLM seemed to focus on appeasing private livestock interests versus caring for the public trust.

On March 10, 2014, Todd argued in federal court before US District Judge Winmill that BLM is ignoring its own science by allowing grazing to continue on allotments in the Burley Field Office in Idaho. On September 29, 2014, Judge Winmill ruled in our favor, giving us a swift victory for sage-grouse in Idaho.