6 Mar 2009, 12:55am
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Federal Judge Affirms Management of Grazing on Lands Burned in Murphy Fires

BLM News Release, March 2, 2009 [here]

A federal district court judge has ruled that actions by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to stabilize and rehabilitate public rangelands burned in the 2007 Murphy Complex wildland fires are consistent with all legal requirements and found no need to ban livestock grazing in these areas.

U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill issued an Order last Thursday expressing confidence in the BLM to modify grazing permits for certain allotments in the Jarbidge Field Office (JFO) to account for the loss of habitat for sensitive species in the 2007 fires “so that the Court does not need … to issue a total ban on grazing.” The Order also concludes that BLM’s environmental studies of its emergency stabilization and rehabilitation plans were in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

“We greatly appreciate the Court’s confidence in the BLM’s ability to manage public lands in the Jarbidge Field Office,” said JFO Manager Rick Vander Voet. “We will continue to use our expertise in multiple disciplines to maintain and restore the health of the lands we steward.” The Order acknowledges and defers to the agency’s expertise to determine which lands burned in the Murphy Complex fires should be closed to grazing as well as its decisions related to reseeding and fences.

The Court rejected as “far-fetched” the idea of ordering an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) analyzing decisions on fencing, closure, and re-seeding in burned areas while an EIS on the Management Plan for the entire JFO is underway. “[T]he burden would be so great on an already overloaded agency that the task would be impossible to perform. … [O]rdering the BLM to simultaneously prepare two EISs [is] a remedy so unrealistic that it must be rejected.”

The Order directs the BLM to apply “a more rigorous standard to grazing authorizations” for 34 allotments in the JFO in the years before a new Resource Management Plan (RMP) for the Field Office is completed to ensure that remaining habitat for sensitive species such as sage-grouse, pygmy rabbit, and slickspot peppergrass is protected.

Vander Voet said the BLM has begun reviewing each of the permits associated with the 34 allotments affected by the Order.

Note: see also the Plaintiffs, Western Watersheds Project [here] and their attorneys, Advocates for the West [here].

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