Court Overturns BLM Range Management Plans

Western Watersheds Project wins initial court victory 

Western Watersheds Project (WWP) has won a federal court order overturning the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Resource Management Plans (RMPs) for the Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve in Idaho and the Pinedale Field Office in Wyoming.  These two plans affect management on over 2.5 million acres of federal public land.

Resource Management Plans are the guiding documents  that provide land-managers with the framework for land-use decisions in a given BLM Field Office.

The Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve and Pinedale Field Office RMPs were chosen by the parties as two initial “test cases” for all of the 16 BLM RMPs that are challenged in Western Watersheds Project’s litigation affecting over 30 million acres of western public lands.

The court held that the BLM fell short of the agency’s legal obligations to adequately consider negative environmental impacts to wildlife, particularly sage grouse, and other environmental values impacted by livestock grazing and oil and gas development.

The federal court granted summary judgment to WWP on both Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) claims and denied all summary judgment claims by the BLM and intervenors.

This case will resonate in many ways including, in particular, the failure of the BLM to consider overall cumulative effects of all permitted activities and all impacts on Greater Sage Grouse. The Order also strongly addresses failure of the BLM to comply with its own sensitive species policy and its national sage grouse conservation policy.

WWP had excellent legal representation in this case by Advocates for the West in Boise.

Read the Order

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By Ralph Maughan

Update. Story in the Billings Gazette. Judge rules in favor of Western Watersheds Project, against BLM.  By Kelsey Dayton.

This decision requires further action, and a litigation conference is set for Oct. 27, when the judge will ask the parties how they plan on moving forward to correct these plans.

“We’re going to solve this problem either around a negotiating table or in a courtroom,” said Todd Tucci, senior attorney from Advocates for the West.

Jonathan Ratner, Wyoming Director for WWP said Ratner said that WWP wants real measurement rules in place. “We want clear contracts,” he said. “What will be allowed? What won’t be allowed?” A major source of anger to grazing conservationists is the strong tendency for the BLM to write grazing plans that say something like this — “The permittees should move their livestock to the next pasture by July 15 if it is feasible. Conservationists say what is needed is not “shall,” but “will.” The BLM needs to get rid of its conditional language because on the ground their rules and regulations become nothing but nice sentiments that influence what happens not at all.

“If the administration isn’t open to negotiations, Western Watersheds Project and Advocates for the West will continue litigation,  Tucci said.


  1. Ken Cole Avatar

    Weird that this isn’t getting any comment since this is one of the biggest environmental lawsuits in a long time. This is tremendously good news for all kinds of wildlife.

  2. Guepardo Lento Avatar
    Guepardo Lento

    Yes Ken there’s probably fewer comments due to the fact that many are probably more fired up to comment on charismatic fauna news.
    I also noticed a lack of comments or discussion way when I posted link pertaining to infamous house bill HR 2584 which affects not only land use, but the air and water quality….

    1. Nancy Avatar

      I was thinking the same thing Guepardo. I guess you have to live in these parts to appreciate the win. A BIG thanks to the crew at WWP. When I can afford to make donations again, you’re at the top on the list!!

  3. Alan Gregory Avatar

    One wold reasonably come to the conclusion that BLM is slow on the learning curve. With yet another loss in the courtroom, the public land-management agency still fails to get the message, so it seems to this Easterner and former Idahoan.

  4. Ken Cole Avatar

    I have heard scuttlebutt over the years that the bigwigs in the BLM discount WWP or at least don’t worry too much about what we do. I think that changed this week.

    The implications of this lawsuit are pretty large and I think that the BLM has been put on notice that they are subject to the law. 

    I just don’t understand how the BLM could blindly kowtow to industry this way and disregard science and the law so egregiously. They know how much money and time goes in to writing just one of these RMP’s so it boggles the mind that they would write even one that is so vulnerable to litigation like this. They have unbelievably written 16 this way and have wasted so much time and money when they simply could have followed the law. 

    I can tell you that WWP doesn’t just file litigation for fun and profit, we do it because the BLM has become a lawless agency. WWP participated in the process of making these RMP’s and asked them to reflect the best available science, their own sensitive species policy, and the law yet they ignored our concerns. 

    I think this exemplifies the comment I made the other day about the lawless way they and the USFS manage resources.

  5. Chris Harbin Avatar
    Chris Harbin

    Along the lines of Guepardo… Most people dont realize that by saving the land they also save the wildlife that is dependent on it. I also think that most people, particularly in the east, are oblivious to the fact that most of our federal lands are subject to grazing and mineral development.

    1. Maska Avatar

      Chris, I totally agree with your comment regarding the lack of understanding of the mismanagement of public lands in the West on the part of people in the East. It’s a message we need to hammer home every chance we get.

      As for WWP, groups don’t get any tougher, leaner, or more effective. Congratulations on this victory. It’s huge.

  6. Rick Hammel Avatar
    Rick Hammel

    Another RMP coming out between now and 10/15. It is the Little Snake RMP. The draft came out about 5 years ago. Also a rumor that there is going to be a rangewide EIS on sage grouse coming up. Not to much detail on that one.

    1. Brian Ertz Avatar

      they’re looking to circumvent ESA listing for sage grouse via the rangewide EIS given the abject absence of regulatory mechanisms to prevent their continued precipitous decline.

      This is all fine and good if it means tangible curtailment of impact to sage grouse habitat – which means a fundamentally altering (humbling) our destructive relationship with the sagebrush biome – unfortunately, too often it doesn’t mean that, it means that the politicians and bureaucrats will busy themselves biding time with reams of paperwork smokescreens whilst industry continues unfettered exploitation of our natural heritage so that politician A can continue to kick the can into the responsibility of the next generation.

      why a rangewide EIS on sage grouse ? no need to reinvent the wheel. USFWS has already published a rule to list under a statute that already remedies anything such a range-wide EIS might hope to address (see: Endangered Species Act) – the work’s already been done (see: Status Review – published listing rule) all that needs to happen is they need to uncheck the ‘but precluded’ box in the existing rule and we can get to work curtailing impact and restoring habitat.

  7. Mal Adapted Avatar
    Mal Adapted

    After reading the NewWest article about Jon Marvel a year ago, I joined WWP and gave them $100. After reading this post, I gave them another $100.


    I can tell you that WWP doesn’t just file litigation for fun and profit….

    Was that in reference to Ted Williams’ attack piece in High Country News a while back?

  8. Sam Avatar

    There has been a lot of WWP activity lately, the Pygmy rabbit lawsuit in addition to this landmark win. So, it took me awhile to get though the readings. But it definitely is a hugh victory! But there is the chance of appeal?

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