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Western Watersheds Project Litigates to Protect 145,000 Acres of Sage-grouse Habitat!

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Western Watersheds Project (WWP) and our attorneys Todd Tucci and Kristin Ruether of Advocates for the West filed litigation in the Federal District Court in Idaho over vegetation “treatments” affecting 145,000 acres of public lands in the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Ely District of Nevada.

WWP is able to bring this litigation in Idaho federal District Court even though the challenged BLM actions are in Nevada because it is follow-up litigation to WWP’s broader lawsuit challenging 16 BLM Resource Management Plans in six western states including the Ely, Nevada BLM Resource Management Plan. That case is being heard in the Federal District Court for the District of Idaho.

The BLM’s “Cave Valley/Lake Valley Watersheds Restoration Plan” intends to mow, chop, burn and poison sagebrush within what the Nevada Department of Wildlife considers “essential and irreplaceable” Greater sage-grouse habitat. In addition, the BLM’s decisions permit the construction or reconstruction of over 400 miles of fences and new wells, reservoirs, pipelines and livestock watering facilities within key sage-grouse habitat.

This plan is harmful to sage-grouse because it would fragment habitat, increase the spread of weeds at new water sites, cause direct mortality through collisions with new fencing and destroy sage-grouse nesting habitat through livestock trampling.  The BLM knows that livestock grazing is the most widespread land use in the sagebrush landscape but continues denying livestock’s negative impact on sage-grouse habitat.

The proposed projects will also affect other wildlife in the Cave Valley and Lake Valley watersheds, including Rocky Mountain elk, mule deer, pronghorn antelope, desert bighorn sheep, Brewer’s sparrow, sage thrasher and green-tailed towhee. Thirty-one sensitive species live in the project area, including bald eagle, pygmy rabbit and a number of native bats.

In spite of this knowledge, the BLM decided to implement a landscape-scale sagebrush and juniper eradication program and range development project under the guise of “Watersheds Restoration.”

It is very clear that WWP and the BLM have very different definitions of “restoration”.  WWP’s vision is to protect watersheds and wildlife from the direct and indirect impacts of livestock grazing. The BLM’s plan is to “restore” the land for the sole use of the livestock industry. Fortunately federal law is on the side of protecting imperiled species and their habitat. It is truly a shame that it will take a Federal Judge to enforce the law.

Many thanks to our attorneys Todd Tucci and Kristin Ruether and to WWP’s Katie Fite and Ken Cole for their hard work preparing this complaint!

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