Phoenix, AZ— Two conservation groups have won their legal claims against the Bureau of Land Management's illegal determination that livestock grazing could continue on the Sonoran Desert National Monument in central Arizona. Western Watersheds Project and the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club had challenged the monument plan because of the flawed science supporting the agency's conclusions, and a federal district judge agreed. The legal opinion finds flaws in the BLM's methods of setting the desired plant community objectives, in determining livestock impacts to saguaros, in "cherry-picking" which years of data to use, and in excluding certain data from its analysis.
"It seemed plain that the agency wanted to justify continued grazing, and when it couldn't meet the bar it set for land health, it would simply lower the bar enough to get the data to meet the criteria," said Greta Anderson, deputy director of Western Watersheds Project. "The changes to the standards were unilaterally in favor of continued grazing, and the judge agreed that the BLM didn't have a basis for these wide adjustments in the standards."
"The court took a close look at the record and determined that BLM had not adequately explained or provided scientific support for its determination that grazing was not causing harm," said Laurie Rule, attorney with Advocates for the West. "Many of these flaws were pointed out to BLM by Western Watersheds Project and the Sierra Club during public comments, as well as by peer reviewers on draft plans, but maybe now that a federal judge has concurred, BLM will take heed and remedy its decision."
“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."
The Court concluded that BLM failed to adequately explain some of its decisions that led to the determination to continue livestock grazing, and failed to address significant concerns raised in a peer reviewer's comments. The basis of the monument plan therefore is "arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law." The BLM has been ordered to file a supplemental report providing the reasoned explanations for its decision or to adopt difference decisions by April 24, 2015.
A copy of the court's opinion can be found here. Background on the case is available here.