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Archived: Access to Federal Land Legal Cases

Since its creation in 1977, MSLF has been the Nation's leading legal center defending the rights of all Americans to make use of the one-third of the nation that is owned by the federal government. By law, much of the Nation's federal land is available for multiple uses, including recreation, as well as mining, oil and gas development, forestry, ranching, and other activities. MSLF seeks, by its legal efforts, to ensure the continuation of these activities on federal lands and has established a number of vitally important precedents by its litigation.

In Re Montana Wilderness Association

Legal Question:

Whether all existing uses, including livestock grazing, oil and gas development, and commercial and private recreation, should continue within the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument?

Plaintiffs:

Montana Wilderness Association; The Wilderness Society; Friends of the Missouri Breaks Monument; National Trust for Historic Preservation; Oil and Gas Accountability Project; Western Watersheds Project; Inc.; Glenn Monahan; Nancy Schultz

Defendants:

Gene R. Terland, Montana State Director, Bureau of Land Management; Bob Abbey, Director, Bureau of Land Management; Gary E. Slagel, Manager, Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument; Gary L. Benes, Manager, Lewiston Field Office, Bureau of Land Management; U.S. Department of the Interior; Bureau of Land Management

Intervenors:

Missouri River Stewards; Blaine County; Chouteau County; Fergus County; Phillips County (all represented by MSLF)

Court:

United States District Court for the District of Montana, Great Falls Division (Haddon, J., presiding)
Completion of Class III surveys by the BLM

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 All of these lands were thus withdrawn from operation of the General Mining Law and oil, gas, and geothermal leasing.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.

 

No Status Updates
  • Westerners Prevail Over Enviros’ Demands On Montana Monument

    Jan 16, 2014
    A western, nonprofit, public-interest legal foundation long active in litigation as to national monuments, the recreational and economic interests of westerners, and valid existing rights, today welcomed the ruling of a Montana federal district court that a review planned by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is sufficient.
  • Western Group Urges Limited Remand of Montana Monument Ruling

    Oct 23, 2013
    A western, nonprofit, public-interest legal foundation long active in litigation as to national monuments, the recreational and economic interests of westerners, and valid existing rights, today urged a Montana federal district court to remand a portion of its ruling for review by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
  • Second Appeals Court Panel Overturns Montana Monument Ruling

    Jul 31, 2013
    A western, nonprofit, public-interest legal foundation long active in litigation as to national monuments, the recreational and economic interests of rural westerners, and valid existing rights, today expressed disappointment in the ruling of a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in favor of environmental groups that challenged federal management plans for a national monument in Montana.


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