Court Victory Stops Corporate Ranching on 450,000 Acres of Public Land in Southern Idaho

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On February 28, 2011 Chief Judge B. Lynn Winmill of the United States District Court for Idaho agreed with Western Watersheds Project and reimposed an injunction stopping livestock grazing on 17 grazing allotments covering over 450,000 acres of public land in the Jarbidge Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management in southern Idaho.

The allotments closed under this injunction contain some of the most important remaining habitat for sage grouse, California bighorn sheep, the threatened plant species slickspot peppergrass as well as native redband trout, pygmy rabbits and pronghorn antelope.

March 4 news story added. Federal judge shuts down some Jarbidge grazing allotments. By Laura Lundquist. Magic Valley Times News

Here is Western Watersheds Project’s News Release on this important victory:

Western Watersheds Project Wins A Federal Court Injunction Stopping Livestock Grazing on over 450,000 Acres of Public Land in Southern Idaho

Greater sage grouse, pygmy rabbit and Slickspot peppergrass have won a reprieve from livestock grazing which has decimated their populations and destroyed their habitat. Late yesterday, Chief Judge B. Lynn Winmill of the federal District for Idaho held BLM, various Simplot corporate entities, and other corporate ranching operations to the terms of an earlier agreement, and again enjoined livestock grazing on 17 livestock grazing allotments in southern Idaho.

“Instead of negotiating a reasonable compromise to allow some grazing to continue in these areas, BLM, Simplot and other ranchers gambled and they lost,” said Todd C. Tucci, senior attorney for Advocates for the West, who is representing plaintiff Western Watersheds in the case. “We have been seeking common ground for the eight months, and their idea of compromise was complete capitulation. We are gratified that the court held BLM and Simplot to terms of our agreement.”

In 2005, the federal court enjoined livestock grazing on 28 grazing allotments, after finding that Bureau of Land Management (BLM) violated the National Environmental Policy Act, the Federal Lands Policy and Management Act, and the BLM’s Fundamentals of Rangeland Health. Western Watersheds Project, ranchers and the BLM then entered into an agreement allowing some ongoing grazing and requiring the BLM to develop a new Resource Management Plan (RMP) for the Jarbidge Field Office as well as an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for that plan. The EIS would examine the impacts of grazing on public lands in the Jarbidge Field Office of the BLM. In the interim five years, BLM has failed to issue the required EIS and RMP.

“The sage-grouse populations in the Jarbidge Field Office are in collapse,” said Jon Marvel, Executive Director of Western Watersheds Project. “This reprieve – which comes at the start of the sage-grouse nesting period – will help ensure that adequate habitat exists for this keystone species. BLM cannot keep allowing the same grazing over and over, and expect a different result,” said Marvel.

Recent data from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game shows that sage-grouse populations in the Jarbidge Field Office are in a free fall, with declines of over 90% since 2006 alone. For example, in the Browns Bench area of the Field Office, total male sage-grouse lek counts are down from 185 in 2006 to 29 in 2010, and some areas are in an even steeper decline.

“It is long past time for these corporate ranching operations to take responsibility for the impacts of their grazing on wildlife habitat throughout the Jarbidge Field Office,” said Katie Fite, Biodiversity Director for Western Watersheds Project. “These corporations have refused to modify their grazing practices to adapt to the needs of these imperiled wildlife species, even in the face of undisputed scientific evidence,” said Fite.

Maybe, just maybe, this injunction will restore some order and balance to public lands grazing in the Jarbidge Field Office,” said Tucci. “We can only hope.”

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17 Responses to “Court Victory Stops Corporate Ranching on 450,000 Acres of Public Land in Southern Idaho”

  1. william huard Says:

    By now the ranching community must be feeling a little paranoid, or at least looking over their shoulder. Long overdue and along time coming. Marvel won’t be gettin a Christmas card from the stockgrowers

  2. william huard Says:

    and a long time coming. sorry

  3. Craig Says:

    Now they will just move them to a differnet area and make it twice as bad! Might as well move them to Stanley, and the Gov’t can sub the cost of moving them there!

  4. Ralph Maughan Says:

    Craig,

    They can’t just move their livestock to an area where they have no grazing permit.

    This is a significant victory for the outdoors and the average person over the feudal lords of the West.

    • Ralph Maughan Says:

      Western Watersheds has already found about 300 head of cattle turned out early — illegally.

      This reaffirms the need to bring some law and order to the area.

      I hope folks will visit this area, even though it is remote. It is quite interesting where not degraded by abusive livestock grazing now it will have a chance to recover.

      By “remote” I don’t mean there are no roads. I mean it is not near population centers of note.

      • Ken Cole Says:

        Yes Ralph, we went out the other day armed with this year’s annual grazing plans and maps on my iPhone and were able to document cattle in three out of the five allotments we searched that weren’t supposed to be there even if the BLM had prevailed. It is amazing that these ranchers are running calving operations out on these lands in the freaking winter. In many places the cattle were turning the place into a mud bog. It was disgusting.

        The place is coming unraveled and what used to be extremely important sage grouse habitat has become an industrial feedlot plagued by cheatgrass and huge fires devoid of any wildlife other than ravens who pick of the afterbirth of the calving operation. Those same ravens, that wouldn’t be there in significant numbers otherwise, are also picking off the sage grouse chicks. Sage grouse, in the areas that haven’t recently burned, have declined 80% since 2006 alone.

        And they claim to be “the original stewards of the land”.

      • Ralph Maughan Says:

        Ken,

        I guess any of the illegal cattle that die will be reported as losses to wolves.
        – – – –
        Idaho’s prisons are overflowing, but maybe the wrong people are incarcerated.

      • Ken Cole Says:

        There is a story in the Times News this morning.
        http://www.magicvalley.com/news/local/article_6e783540-7116-5720-9195-0871fc4f54f6.html

        Judging by the lack of comments on this post I don’t think people understand the magnitude of this win. I don’t know that this has happened in quite some time, if ever.

      • Daniel Berg Says:

        Ken,

        Do you know off-hand what percentage of that 450,000k acres were Simplot allotments?

      • WM Says:

        What is the legal recourse for cattle turned out early? To whom does one report this? And, in the event BLM is the right agency to tell, but is.may be complicit or fails to timely, who is the alternative – would you have to ask for a hearing before the judge or could you go directly to a federal Marshall)?

        Just curious how this all plays out.

      • WM Says:

        Sorry, I got ahead of myself (maybe the result of this really pissing me off), and the result was bad grammar and punctuation:

        ++And, in the event BLM is the right agency to tell, but is/may be complicit or fails to timely ACT, who is the alternative? Would you have to ask for a hearing before the judge or could you go directly to a federal Marshall?

      • Ralph Maughan Says:

        WM,

        The typical remedy for a grazing violation like this is a fine. It usually is not very large — usually not large enough to deter the violation again.

      • WM Says:

        Ralph,

        Would that not be a basis to go back to the judge and seek injunctive relief with some teeth to it? Also seems to me, regardless of the fine provision, that it is theft of federal property (grazing that is not authorized), and should be treated as such if done purposefully and repeatedly.

      • Ralph Maughan Says:

        WM,

        I was writing about what typically happens as a penalty for livestock trespass.

        In this case, which the judge has been considering for many years now, I expect a lot more fireworks.

        The judge is very familiar with the facts and the law on this case. I doubt he will let his decision to let his injunction go into effect get sidetracked.

        These are some of the most powerful of Idaho’s landed gentry who have to remove their cows (such as the Simplot Corporation and Brackett family).

        When Idaho’s traditional interests complain about distant federal judges, they are really complaining many times about a very near federal judge from Pocatello, ID, e.g., Judge Winmill.

  5. Doryfun Says:

    I get it. Its first magnitude in star lingo. Cudos for doing the near impossible. A dent. a good start. I just hope it stirs marginal ranchers back into good practices, and doesn’t alienate ranchers, like ones in the Owyhees who played an important part in particpating in collaboration to work with everyone, rather than against opposite user groups.

    Not all grazing is bad. Studies of past have shown that elk often prefer moderately grazed rangelands, over totally ungrazed ones. So, things are not always as they seem. done right, we can have reasonable use in a repsonsible way. At least this ruling will help bring about those who have stayed from those ends. Its just too bad a whip must be used. But then again, some never get it, even when a 2/4 smacks them between the eyes. Never ending…

    • Ken Cole Says:

      “like ones in the Owyhees who played an important part in particpating in collaboration to work with everyone, rather than against opposite user groups”

      They didn’t collaborate with everyone. They excluded WWP from the get go because WWP wasn’t willing to ignore the science and obvious value of the uplands to wildlife like the other groups did.

      The Owyhee Initiative was brought about to protect the ranchers not the landscape and it excluded all but the canyons which were de-facto wilderness anyway. The collaboration was a failure contrary to popular belief and great changes were made in the Omnibus bill that eventually passed and became law. Some of the biggest compromises that were made by “conservationists” were pulled out and resulted in a better wilderness than it would have been if only the ideas that came from the collaborative had been included.

  6. Doryfun Says:

    I guess I must be one of those whom was vamboozled by ?? into thinking that the Omnibus bill was a result of collaboration. As much as I have gravitated over the years to wanting to draw a line in the sand and defend it all (compormise always seems to mean “giving something else, an inch at a time.”) thinking our backs are against the wall already, it seems I continue to give in – in the sense that others convince me that “all or nothing” thinking will end up with no Omnibus bills for wildlands, and thereby losing everything. (Something seems better than nothing). So, I guess I should look at this recent WWP winning, as a gamble that paid off this time? And why was it again that WWP was excluded from being one of those collaborating partners in the Owyhee country? Do you believe WWP was the only group to consider science?
    I have sat in a lot of collaboration type meetings over the years, and often I had to make painful compromises I didn’t like. But, I sure didn’t ignore science when it came time to make my decisions.


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