Major lawsuit by Western Watersheds Project over sage grouse

25-million acres of public land said operating under illegal BLM plans-

Conservationists decry ranching impact on sage grouse populations. By Scott Sonner. Associated Press Writer

Needless to say, this is no small piece of litigation.

Scope of litigation - map © Advocates for the West & Conservation Geography
Scope of litigation – map © Advocates for the West & Conservation Geography

Thanks to Advocates for the West for permission to use the map.



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  1. kt Avatar

    Ely BLM (the area on the Nevada-Utah border) serves as a prime example of the Bush BLM land use plans. It authorized all kinds of new energy and utility corridors, and never dealt with livestock stocking or effects of grazing. BLM just plans to kill, alter and destroy (with your tax dollars) nearly all pinyon-juniper plus most of the sagebrush too, and call its destruction “restoration”. Those darn sagebrush plant communities are too “old”, too “decadent”, don’t fit the “ideal”, might burn too much or too little or something, so the only thing to do is to take them down to bare dirt and seed something “better”. It illustrates how these Bush era plans were really plans to allow industry to do whatever it wanted on public lands – and to eliminate pesky sage grouse, pygmy rabbits or other “problem” species once and for all.

    The Craters of the Moon plan in Idaho claimed all kinds of sagebrush restoration activities would somehow blossom forth – yet it kept the very same number of livestock and ignored those effects. So in the Craters RMP, that was really in many ways the template for a lot of the others, BLM planned to sink tens of millions of dollars into re-seeding, and then let the same number of cows and sheep eat up the “restoration” project.

    Those who live in the KBSU (Idaho public radio and affiliates) airwave region are assaulted once a week or so by a whining ranch wife (originally from New York) with tales of life on the ranch near Carey (omitting mention of the condo in Sun Valley). One part of the program at this link is aimed at the WWP lawsuits – since this operation grazes domestic sheep and cattle in and near Craters of the Moon, and also on Elko BLM lands near the Goshute country. Warning: May induce severe reactions in some listeners. I have been told of people injuring radios while flailing frantically to turn them off or while looking for the volume switch when this comes across the airwaves:

    How dare there be any environmental laws regulating ranchers! Shouldn’t cattle and sheep men (and their fawning womenfolk) just be free to have their livestock defecate in public land waters, spread weeds, and destroy sage grouse habitats at will?

  2. Brian Ertz Avatar

    Ken, you and I need to get on producing a podcast –
    Dianne Peavey’s essay about the so-called west is a joke.

  3. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Didn’t the ranch wife complain about WWP and their awful lawsuits?

    She seems not have remembered that this is public land. It always has been public land, there are many other uses and users of this shared land, and there was never a golden era of sheep ranching.

    They don’t all fawn.

    I once had a graduate student (now prematurely deceased) who once married a sheepman, thought it would be very romantic, riding the range, and all. It was once in a while, but it was mostly hard and dirty work, ending in divorce.

    Much of the problem in the West is the Hollywood created belief that ranching is a special, romantic occupation that brings you close to the land.

  4. Ken Cole Avatar

    Sounds good Brian.

  5. TimothyB Avatar

    I’m often times very wrong when it comes to foreseeing what will happen in lawsuits. But after seeing the huge amount of land involved in this litigation I see:
    1. The average American will roll their eyes and walk away from any support of this lawsuit.
    2. The average “Western American” will likely roll their eyes, laugh and say “those guys are crazy”.

    IMO…remove the map from any and all publications and don’t let anyone see it again.

  6. Rick Hammel Avatar
    Rick Hammel

    There are probably more RMPs that will probably be found deficient, ie, Little Snake (Craig,CO) RMP. Just south of the Wyoming border. lies one of the most prolific sage grouse populations in the West. And it sits on a very desirable gas reserve. All we cn do is wait, as the RMP is 18 months late in being released. Oh Yeah, I forgot that there is cows, too.


  7. kt Avatar

    Rick Hammel is probably correct. If the Little Snake RMP was to the DEIS stage under Bush, it is likely so deficient that there is no fixing it. A lot of these RMPs BLM spent millions on Contractors, too, to come up with little to no significant information. The Pocatello RMP not yet Final – is a perfect example. Big bucks sunk into “Fuels” estimates – to serve as the basis for claiming nearly every living or dead plant out there could be targeted for burning, mowing, herbiciding or other “treatment” – and replaced with herbaceous veg (forage plants).

    What a waste this all is. The OLD land use plans, as much as folks had maligned them, and that these RMPs replaced (in some cases they even replaced old MFPs Mgmt Framework Plans which were the very first Plans BLM did following passage of FLPMA). Even the old MFPs actually at times had some meaningful restrictions and more firm language on wildlife protections and prohibiting adverse impacts than the Mush that came out in the latter Bush years. Binding language was gotten rid of in the meaningless new RMPs. The ONLY thing better about some of these is OHV/roading controls – they got rid of the old “open everywhere” categories. But that is not challenged in this suit.

  8. Brian Ertz Avatar

    The scope of the litigation and the map illustrating it give an apt idea about the extent of the damage that the Bush Administration has done – that damage is extensive, represents the administration’s extensive systemic disregard for science and law, and can be prevented right now if we are to trust Obama’s expressed renewed commitment to both science and law – especially at Interior.

    The size and scope of the lawsuit is necessary because the problems identified are systemic – the same deficiencies and disregard for wildlife are present throughout all of the RMPs. Laird will be arguing to keep the complaint consolidated for many reasons (the government wants to split the case) but it seems to me that it’s a best use of the judge’s time – and the in the best interest of everyone involved – to decide the merit once rather than split it up, potentially come up with differing decisions from different judges – etc.

    It seems to me that WWP is tee-ing it up for the new admin to clean up Bush’s mess in an efficient swoop – rather than make more of a mess.

  9. Brian Ertz Avatar


    If Ralph is up for it – maybe he’ll even let us post on this blog 😉

  10. kt Avatar

    Brian – Yes, but do you think rancher Salazar is up to it? Don’t you think he views sage grouse just like prairie dogs – a nuisance that if those dratted birds would go away one way or the othe -be it by the oil rig or the cow hoof or the windmill, his buddies will be happier. Interior is adrift right now, no one knows what they are to do. Instead of having seized the moment for change, Salazar seems set on a path of doing little to nothing (except promoting reckless renewables any and every where industry wants at all costs). Of course, this too benefits ALL industry – livestock, mining, oil and gas. Focus everybody’s attention on Renewables to benefit the Energy Industry now dressed up in a Green Mantle but really many of the same old Shell Oils, politicians buddies and other players. And he serves Industry and distracts the public and media by hyping Renewables 24/7 – so they look away from the other assaults on public lands. So Big Energy solidifies its grip on Renewable Energy by being allowed an Open Season on public lands for mega-projects strung together by giant utility corridors. This also cements in place the same old failed model of energy, and hurts funding for and investment in locally produced and used small-scale energy on rooftops and already trashed lands as being a Way Forward.

    Come to think of it: Maybe Rancher Salazar will change the name of Interior: To the Department of Renewables and “forage” removal – urrrrr —Chewables. Sorry, I could not resist.

  11. DB Avatar

    Brian says “the gov’t wants to split the case.” Does that mean Justice, as the article states, or Interior? Or does Justice do want Interior wants in such cases? If, as Kt suggests, Salazar and Interior want each plan handled as 18 separate cases, they couldn’t be real committed to the national Sage Grouse Habitat Strategy they bought into. If the WWP suit is heard it should also point out the harm a monster renewable energy transmission program would have on remaining intact ecosystems on public lands. It sure seems that the WWP’s tact has the potential for the most benefit. If mega projects were slowed or halted, wouldn’t the existing industry still be in the best position to capitalize on locally prodced generation and transmission projects? I hope that the new people staffing Interior make that argument.

  12. Brian Ertz Avatar


    i’ll ask the lawyers and make sure to get back to you about the justice or interior question.

    the claims are outlined in the complaint – which is downloadable from this webpage for those interested. it’s got a good background regarding the landscape. monster energy projects, including transmission – are certainly important.

    you might also be interested in our <a href=”Great Basin Core Sage Grouse litigation – which draws in dozens of individual decisions – challenging their shortcomings at the more localized level. Three levels – i.e. the Great basin Core Sage Grouse consolidates and challenges shortcomings of individual level decisions (at the allotment level) across the Great Basin population of sage grouse… The RMP litigation (as noted above) challenges the shortcomings of the RMPs at the resource area level, and of course the ongoing ESA litigation tops off the third tier at the top ~

    It will be interesting to see how Salazar & Interior respond – you may notice Laird and Jon’s tone in the article seems certainly more willing to sit down and negotiate than before (with Bush). Perhaps they believe this administration will be more willing to consider the best interest of wildlife. We’ll see whether that’s true.

    I am sure WWP will be keeping a keen eye on the mega-energy development level (renewables are just another energy development) and their threat to sage grouse populations is certainly among the priorities in that regard.

  13. Anthony Avatar

    Does anyone know why the litigation stops at the Oregon border?

  14. CB Avatar

    KT says: ” all pinyon-juniper plus most of the sagebrush too, and call its destruction “restoration”.

    I guess if you have limited temporal and spatial views, restoration might appear to be destruction. Just like the famous Yellowstone fires.

    I like the fact that you idiots focus on ranching, which is the most ecologically compatible use of public lands. When ranching is gone will you then focus on energy? Then after that focus on recreation? The after that focus on hikers? You won’t quit until all humans are removed from the PUBLIC land you claim as your own.

    WWP is misleading and full of lies; from the org’s name to their “cause.” Using lies to advance your vegan ideals will leave you miserable.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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