In January 2001, President Clinton used the Antiquities Act of 1906 to designate 375,000 acres of federal land in Montana managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) as the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument. All of these lands were thus withdrawn from operation of the General Mining Law and oil, gas, and geothermal leasing. Grazing and other uses remained unchanged and "valid existing rights" were protected.
In December 2008, the BLM issued a Resource Management Plan (RMP) for the Monument, which authorized continued oil and gas development but barred new leases, allowed continued motorized boat use along the river corridor; recognized 400 miles of roads (and permits off-road camping and travel within 100 feet of roadway), recognized six airstrips, authorized limited animal damage control, permitted development of new recreational facilities, authorized rights-of-way and utility corridors, and recognized grazing as an authorized use.
In April 2009, three environmental groups sued the BLM, arguing that the RMP violates the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA), President Clinton's Proclamation, and various environmental statutes. A particular target of the lawsuit is grazing in the Monument.
On August 18, 2010, MSLF entered its appearance on behalf of its clients. On November 23, 2010, the environmental groups filed motions for summary judgment. On December 16, 2010, the federal defendants moved to strike the environmental groups' extra record evidence and supporting memoranda. On December 17, 2010, MSLF filed a response joining that motion. On January 19, 2011, the district court granted the motion and ordered the environmental groups to file new supporting memoranda on or before February 11, 2011.
On February 11, 2011, the environmental groups filed their new supporting memoranda. On March 4, 2011, MSLF filed a cross-motion for summary judgment and opposition to the motions for summary judgment. On March 25, 2011, the environmental groups filed their briefs. On April 15, 2011, MSLF filed a reply.
On July 18, 2011, the district court heard oral arguments. On August 9, 2011, the district court issued an order granting summary judgment in favor of federal defendants and MSLF's clients in all three consolidated cases. All three sets of environmental groups filed appeals with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
On March 15, 2012, Western Watershed Project (WWP) filed its opening brief in its appeal. MSLF’s clients filed their brief on May 31, 2012. WWP filed its reply brief on August 31, 2012. On June 1, 2012, Montana Wilderness Association (MSW) and The Wilderness Society (TWS) filed their respective opening briefs in their appeals. MSLF’s clients filed their response briefs on September 24, 2012. Oral arguments in all three appeals were held on February 5, 2013.
On June 7, 2013, the Ninth Circuit issued an opinion in WWP’s appeal. The Ninth Circuit held that the BLM reasonably interpreted the Proclamation to not require programmatic changes to grazing management policies in the Missouri Breaks RMP and that its Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) complied with NEPA by taking a hard and careful look at grazing impacts; however, the Ninth Circuit ruled that the BLM failed to comply with NEPA with respect to the Woodhawk Allotment Environmental Assessment (EA) and reversed and remanded so the district court could enter an appropriate order requiring the BLM to remedy the deficiencies in the EA for the Woodhawk Allotment or to prepare a more detailed EIS, whichever is appropriate, in a timely matter. On January 16, 2014, after the parties had briefed remedy in WWP’s case, the district court ordered the BLM to prepare a supplemental environmental assessment on the Woodhawk Allotment that considers both reduced and no-grazing alternatives and denied WWP’s request for injunctive relief as premature.
Meanwhile, on July 31, 2013, the Ninth Circuit issued an opinion in MWA’s and TWS’s appeals. The Ninth Circuit ruled that the district court properly rejected their FLPMA, NEPA, and NHPA consultation claims; however, the Ninth Circuit reversed the district court as to the NHPA survey claim. Accordingly, the Ninth Circuit vacated that portion of the judgment and remanded with instructions to enter judgment in favor of MWA and TWS on their NHPA survey claims and to enter an appropriate order requiring the BLM to conduct Class III surveys with respect to roads, ways, and airstrips that have not been subject to recent Class III surveys. On December 20, 2013, the parties entered into a stipulation to that effect, which the district court approved on January 9, 2014.
In August and September 2014, the BLM agreed to pay all three sets of plaintiffs attorneys’ fees under the EAJA. On October 10, 2014, the district court issued an order closing the case brought by Western Watersheds Project in light of the BLM’s new decision on remand and the payment of WWP’s attorneys’ fees.