October 23, 2014
Today a federal judge dismissed Western Watersheds Project’s (WWP) lawsuit against the Bureau of Land Management. The lawsuit sought to compel the BLM to take specific actions to improve rangeland health on the grazing allotments in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM).
The Federal Land Policy Management Act (FLPMA) directs the BLM to create management plans for grazing allotments within the Monument. The BLM consults with the lessees or permittees involved to create these plans. The plans identify the allotments that meet or do not meet the standards of rangeland health. The BLM then monitors each allotment and collects data to evaluate whether an allotment meets the standards. It also evaluates how effectively each allotment is managed. If the rangeland is below the standards, federal regulations require the monitoring officer to identify the significant factors contributing to this and formulate, propose, and analyze appropriate actions to address the failure. BLM has discretion to take appropriate actions to improve rangeland health.
In 2006, the BLM released Rangeland Health Determinations for all grazing allotments in the GSENM. For those areas not meeting standards, the BLM recommended the appropriate action to achieve health standards. The BLM did not exactly follow its initial recommendations but did take the actions that improved the health of the range. WWP, a conservation group, filed a lawsuit to compel the BLM to follow its initial recommendations. However, under the law, the BLM is not required to do this, which today’s ruling reflects.
The BLM demonstrated significant progress towards meeting rangeland health standards and that it has discretion to decide which steps to take to improve rangeland. Judge Clark Waddoups agreed with the BLM and dismissed the WWP’s lawsuit, refusing to compel the BLM to take any particular actions as long as the BLM’s activities improved the grazing allotments.
The State of Utah, Garfield, and Kane counties were parties to this lawsuit supporting the BLM’s position. This is a victory for the State and counties because it leaves the on-the-ground decisions to the ranchers, the BLM field employees, and the counties. Judge Waddoups’ ruling puts the power back where it belongs – not with the federal courts but with the locals, who are directly affected by the range conditions.