Wildlife advocates won a round against energy development and grazing in Wyoming and Idaho last week, when Idaho Chief U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill overturned two Bureau of Land Management resource management plans in favor of the Hailey, Idaho-based Western Watersheds Project.
The nonprofit conservation group argued the BLM was too hasty in development of 16 resource management plans involving more than 30 million acres in six Western states.
Western Watersheds Project said the order showed the BLM did not comply with its own environmental impact statements and national sage grouse conservation policies in its resource management plans. The decision has left many wondering how it will impact Western public lands management, since the two plans examined by the judge serve as test cases for the other 14. Watersheds' executive director, Jon Marvel, felt confident the ruling on the test cases was an indicator the same decision would be made for the rest.
"Sage grouse populations are collapsing, BLM's land management decisions are part of the cause of it, and they need to slow down," said Todd Tucci, an Advocates for the West attorney who helped argue the case.
Oil and gas industry groups and ranchers weren't happy with the ruling. Bruce Hinchey, president of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, felt efforts the industry had made to mitigate sage grouse habitat impacts--organizing development in the Pinedale area in clusters--went unnoticed.
The Wyoming Stock Growers Association felt the Pinedale resource plan, which allows 200 to 300 ranchers 200 grazing allotments, met environmental and legal requirements. Idaho ranchers worry grazing allotments and access to the monument will become even more restricted with the decision.
In the Craters of the Moon test case, the court reminded the BLM of its environmental impact statement, which asserted that grazing had been "primarily responsible for the declines in forb production and declines in native perennial grass production and composition," which negatively affects sage grouse habitat.
Gas and grazing aren't the only factors that could threaten grouse -- wind farms are another potential threat, as we've reported here.
BLM representatives from both sites said they have not yet decided whether to appeal the decision. But the Twin Falls Times-News reported the process of rewriting the plans could take the BLM two to five years, in which time Western Watersheds will seek interim plans for sage grouse management. Parties will update the court on how they will proceed Oct. 27.
Kimberly Hirai is an intern at High Country News.
Image courtesy Flickr user vividcorvid.