PUBLIC LANDS -- Sage grouse are generating considerable interest throughout the West as groups see their dwindling numbers as ways to address a wide range of public lands topics such as mining, oil drilling and livestock grazing.
A small portion of a federal judge’s ruling in Idaho against the U.S. Bureau of Land Management concerning grazing permits in sage grouse habitat is being eyed as a potential lever by environmental groups considering similar lawsuits in other states, the Associated Press reports today.
Most of U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill’s 21-page decision late last month involved his ruling that the agency violated environmental laws in issuing permits on four grazing allotments in south-central Idaho, considered test cases for about 600 other permits.
But he used three pages near the end of his decision to rule on a separate matter that the agency incorrectly used a congressional budget rider to issue additional grazing permits in south-central Idaho with no environmental analysis at all.
“This is a clear shot across the bow of the BLM,” said Todd Tucci, an attorney for Advocates for the West that represented Western Watersheds Project in the lawsuit. “I will bring this argument to any federal court in the country and feel very comfortable about my likelihood of success,” he told the AP.
Ken Cole of Western Watersheds Project said the BLM has used the rider to issue hundreds of grazing permits across the West. Winmill’s decision only pertains to Idaho, but conservation groups in other states are viewing the winning lawsuit as a possible template.
“This is a legal victory that is certainly going to get a lot of scrutiny from environmental groups moving forward,” Erik Molvar of WildEarth Guardians says in the AP report
Idaho BLM spokeswoman Jessica Gardetto said the agency would do the environmental assessments on the four allotments as instructed by Winmill. But attorneys with the BLM said that because the ruling didn’t address the other 600 permits, there was no final judgment.
The BLM attorneys, in a statement sent to The Associated Press by Gardetto, said, “What this means, for practical purposes, is that Judge Winmill’s latest order is not immediately appealable, and there is currently no time frame for BLM to appeal.”
On the other part of the ruling, Gardetto said the agency is analyzing how it will affect the BLM’s grazing permit renewal process.