On Friday, June 7, Western Watersheds Project prevailed against the Bureau of Land Management’s insufficient assessment of livestock grazing on the special objects of the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument in Montana!
In an important case in front of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, federal judges ruled that the BLM did not adequately assess the impacts of grazing when it renewed the grazing permit on the Woodhawk allotment. Although the court concluded the BLM did not have to make programmatic changes in grazing policy in its Resource Management Plan, it concluded the BLM must consider a range of alternatives including reducing or eliminating grazing at the allotment level in order to prevent harm to the resources that national monuments are designated to protect. Because the BLM did not consider anything but the status quo grazing management when it renewed the Woodhawk permit, the court held the agency had erred.
The unanimous three-judge panel said “Given the varied objects of the Proclamation, and the ways in which grazing in a particular area might affect them, we do not think that readopting prior grazing levels in the Monument without assessment was precisely what the President had in mind in proclaiming that prior grazing policies could continue.”
This is an important point because many of the National Monuments across the West share the overarching language that grazing may continue according to, “[l]aws, regulations, and policies followed by the [BLM] in issuing and administering grazing permits or leases on all lands under its jurisdiction . . .” The BLM has interpreted this to mean that grazing shall continue unchanged; Friday’s ruling provides guidance that considering changes is necessary when the fate of specially-protected resources are at stake.
In the case of the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument, this means that the agency will have to take a hard look at the impacts of livestock grazing on 149 miles of Upper Missouri National Wild and Scenic River (UMNWSR) and adjacent breaks country, six Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs), the Cow Creek area of critical environmental concern, some of the largest and most viable elk and big horn sheep herds in the United States, essential winter range for sage grouse, segments of the Lewis and Clark and Nez Perce National Historic Trails, important spawning habitat for the endangered pallid sturgeon, numerous archeological and historic sites and some of the wildest country in the Great Plains before issuing future grazing permits.
Read the opinion here. (Editor's Note: court opinion is also included below this article)
Special thanks to attorney Tom Woodbury and WWP members Glenn Monahan and Nancy Schultz for helping us win this important case!