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Lawsuit Demands BLM Step Up Range Health Protections

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Contact

Chandra Rosenthal [PEER] (303) 898-0798, crosenthal@peer.org

Josh Osher [Western Watershed Project] (406) 830-3099, josh@westernwatersheds.org;

Laurie Rule [Advocates for the West] (503) 914-6388, lrule@advocateswest.org

 

Agency Let Go of Oversight Reins on 155-Million Acre Livestock Program

Washington, DC — A federal lawsuit filed today faults the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for its widespread delinquency in assessing environmental conditions and addressing resource damage caused by overgrazing across vast stretches of the American West. The suit seeks a court order requiring BLM to establish a schedule to complete long overdue environmental analyses evaluating conditions on thousands of commercial livestock grazing allotments.

Filed today in U.S. District Court for the District Columbia on behalf of Western Watersheds Project and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) by attorneys at Advocates for the West, the suit is a thorough indictment of BLM’s administration of 35,000 grazing permits covering 155 million acres (more acres than Montana and Idaho combined) across 13 Western states. The complaint charges that BLM has largely abdicated its eco-responsibilities, stating that:

  • BLM has failed to conduct required reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for nearly two-thirds (63%) of current BLM grazing permits;
  • The absence of any NEPA analysis was even higher for sensitive allotments that overlap National Monuments or National Conservation Areas (75%), critical habitat for wildlife protected by the Endangered Species Act (76%), the highest priority sage-grouse habitat (79%), and for domestic sheep allotments in bighorn sheep occupied habitat (94%); and
  • For almost three-quarters (74%) of allotments that BLM determined were failing minimum landscape health standards—due at least in part to impacts from livestock grazing—the agency has not conducted NEPA analysis to evaluate the management changes necessary to improve resource conditions.

 

“For decades, the BLM has been ignoring the reality that permitted grazing causes significant environmental impacts that must be addressed through a transparent, public, science-based process” said Josh Osher, Public Policy Director at WWP. “Instead, the BLM has been exploiting a loophole in the law that was intended to fix the problem of unregulated grazing while the hole the agency has dug for itself just gets deeper and deeper.”

BLM has often renewed grazing permits two or more times without conducting any NEPA review, even for environmentally significant allotments or allotments failing Land Health standards, meaning they have had no NEPA analysis for 15-20 years or more.

“Across much of the West, we see BLM as the Bureau of Land Mismanagement,” stated Rocky Mountain PEER Director Chandra Rosenthal, noting that more than half of BLM acres assessed (54 million acres, an area bigger than Kansas) fail Land Health Standards with livestock grazing listed as a significant cause. “The agency’s own data show the giant gaps in management and we are asking Director Tracey Stone-Manning to prioritize this work.”

Furthermore, BLM’s performance on these environmental assessments is getting worse, not better over time. Based on BLM’s own data, the percent of allotments nationwide that the agency reauthorized for grazing without NEPA review rose from 28% in 2013 to 38% in 2017, and up to 54% in 2021.

“It is clear the agency is intentionally avoiding environmental analysis on allotments containing important natural and cultural resources and imperiled species,” added Laurie Rule of Advocates for the West. “The goal of this lawsuit is to force BLM to prioritize and set deadlines to complete analyses for these important allotments.”

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Read the lawsuit

View how BLM routinely renews ten-year permits without NEPA review

Look at huge areas failing to meet minimum Landscape Health Standards

Examine one permit renewal that epitomizes BLM’s abdication

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