Idaho Judge orders BLM to revisit two RMPs for environmental impacts of grazing and energy development on the sage grouse
For Craters of the Moon and Pinedale RMPs
November 24, 2012
Chief U. S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill, of US District Court for the District of Idaho, issued an order on Wednesday, Nov. 21st on Western Watersheds Project's (WWP) Motion for Remedies against the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) regarding the impact of grazing and oil and gas drilling on sage grouse. The Judge ordered that the Pinedale Resource Management Plan (RMP) and the Craters of the Moon Resource Management Plan (RMP) be remanded back to the agency for work, but he did not vacate the RMP. This means the RMP will remain in place until it is amended. The Order did not discuss what should happen with the remaining 14 RMPs still at issue in the case.
The Judge denied WWP’s request to impose interim measures to manage grazing and drilling during the time the RMPs are being revised. The Order directs the BLM to complete the new Craters RMP by the end of 2014 and the Pinedale RMP by the end of 2016.
In its complaint, plaintiff WWP challenged sixteen separate BLM RMPs and the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) associated with each RMP. These RMPs and EISs were prepared by separate BLM offices in six different states: Idaho, Montana, Utah, California, Wyoming and Nevada.
The lands associated with the sixteen RMPs comprise the range of the sage grouse, and WWP alleged of the challenged RMPs, and their associated EISs, failed to adequately consider the environmental impacts of grazing and energy development on the sage grouse.
To streamline the case, WWP and the BLM proposed, and the Court subsequently approved, a case management plan under which the parties would brief initial summary judgment motions concerning two "test case" RMPs –the Craters of the Moon RMP and the Pinedale RMP. Those motions were filed, and the Court issued its decision on September 28, 2011.
In its 2011 ruling, the Court found that the Pinedale RMP/EIS failed to (1) identify how or where energy and grazing impacts to sage-grouse would occur; (2) map sage-grouse winter use areas; (3) adequately discuss the failure of one third of allotment acres to meet rangeland health standards due to grazing; (4) address cumulative impacts to sage-grouse; (5) analyze the cumulative impacts due to energy development, including energy development in adjoining field offices such as the Kemmerer Field Office; and (6) address the Wyoming Basin Eco-Regional Assessment and the WAFWA Conservation Assessment.
WWP had proposed management measures that restrict grazing and drilling during the interim period, while the BLM and intervenors objected to those measures. The evidentiary hearing focused entirely on this issue.
WWP’s interim measures would: (1) exclude livestock grazing in sage-grouse nesting and brood-rearing habitats from March 1 until after June 20, and remove livestock by August 1 of each year; (2) leave at least 70 percent of the herbaceous production each year to form residual cover to benefit sage-grouse nesting the following spring; (3) prohibit twice-over grazing systems in sage-grouse habitats; (4) prohibit the BLM from allowing conversion of current "unavailable" or "traditional leasing" areas into "intensively developed" areas for oil and gas leasing and development; (5) prohibit BLM from issuing or renewing mineral leases within sage-grouse habitat; (6) prohibit surface disturbance and noise within 3.3 miles of occupied leks or in identified sage-grouse winter habitat; (7) prohibit more than 1 percent new surface disturbance per square mile; and (8) prevent wind farms within 5 miles of occupied leks.
In the ruling, the Court said it could not find that WWP’s interim measures are necessary to prevent irreparable harm in Pinedale during the next five years. Accordingly, it denied WWP’s request for injunctive relief in the Pinedale Field Office.
Click on this link for the full ruling (PDF)