Case Summary

In response to demands by extremist environmental groups, the federal government adopted land management plans that threaten historic and important economic activities to protect a bird that is neither threatened nor endangered. Environmental groups may not abuse the Endangered Species Act to close federal land in the West to lawful uses that are vital to local economies.

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Status

Court

U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho

Case History

Since 2006, the BLM has issued 18 RMPs, as to more than 25 million acres of purported greater sage-grouse habitat in six States, California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming, which set forth permissible uses of the lands and outline the conditions under which each use will be allowed.  Each RMP permits, under certain conditions and with various limitations, extractive uses such as oil and gas development and livestock grazing.  The Idaho court ruled that only 16 RMPs are final for review.

In 2008, the Western Watersheds Project challenged the 18 RMPs alleging that the BLM had failed to protect various sage-grouse populations.  In 2009, PAW and the WSGA intervened successfully in that lawsuit and then participated actively throughout its course.  In response to that lawsuit and others like it, the BLM and Forest Service, in September of 2015, issued four Records of Decision (RODs) that approved 98 land use plan amendments or revisions affecting some 70 million acres in ten western states. Throughout the process leading up to the issuance of the RODs, PAW and the WSGA were involved to the full extent allowed by the BLM and Forest Service.  On February 25, 2016, Western Watershed Project and others sued alleging the RODs were issued and the land use plans approved contrary to the National Environmental Policy Act, Federal Land Policy and Management Act, National Forest Management Act, the Administrative Procedure Act.

On May 2, 2016, MSLF, on behalf of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming (PAW) and the Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA), filed a motion to intervene.  On May 2, 2016, Western Watershed Project filed a response to MSLF’s motion to intervene, requesting that the court delay ruling on the motion until after federal defendants file their answer.  On May 26, 2016, Western Watersheds Project filed an opposition to the MSLF’s motion to intervene.  On June 10, 2016, MSLF filed a reply in support of the motion to intervene. 

In late June of 2016, the federal agencies filed their answer and also filed a motion to serve and transfer, asking the district court to divide up the claims by state and send those so-called state-based claims to federal courts where existing challenges to the RODs are pending, i.e., Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, North Dakota, and the District of Columbia.  On July 25, 2016, MSLF on behalf of its clients, filed a response to the federal agencies’ motion to sever and transfer, supporting the motion to the extent that it sought severance and transfer with respect to the Wyoming-based claims to the U.S. District Court in Wyoming, where MSLF represents WSGA in a pending case.  On August 1, 2016, Western Watersheds Project moved to strike MSLF’s response.  On August 9, 2016, MSLF filed an opposition to the motion to strike.  

On January 23, 2017, the federal agencies filed an unopposed motion to extend the deadlines regarding the administrative record.  On January 24, 2017, the Idaho federal district court issued an order extending the deadline for the agencies to file the administrative record, as well as extending the deadlines for Western Watershed Project to notify the agencies of any objections to the record and any challenges to the record.  On January 30, 2017, the Idaho federal district court issued an order granting PAW and the WSGA and other intervenors permissive intervention and imposing certain conditions on their intervention, including filing joint briefs with other intervenors sharing a common interest and addressing issues not raised by the agencies.  On March 3, 2017, the Idaho federal district court denied the federal agencies’ motion to sever and transfer the case, thereby keeping Western Watershed Project’s entire suit intact.  On March 17, 2017, the federal agencies filed the administrative record.

On July 11, 2017, in light of Secretarial Order 3353, which calls for the review of the greater sage-grouse land use plan amendments and revisions, the federal agencies filed an unopposed motion to stay litigation for 90 days.  On July 13, 2017, the Idaho federal district court granted the stay.  On August 4, 2017, the BLM submitted its “Report in Response to Secretarial Order 3353.”  This report took no immediate action, but proposed possible short-term and long-term options regarding problematic provisions in the land use plan amendments and revisions.  That same day, Secretary Zinke sent a Memorandum to the Deputy Secretary of the Interior directing the implementation of the short-term and long-term recommendations in the Report.  Secretary Zinke further requested the Deputy Secretary to report to him “periodically, and no less than every 6 months” on progress implementing the Report’s recommendations.

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