In fiscal years 2005 through 2007, the Forest Service, without conducting environmental reviews pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), reauthorized several grazing permits on lands managed by the Forest Service. On August 15, 2011, the Western Watersheds Project and the Center For Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit alleging that 17 of the reauthorizations—seven in the Coconino National Forest in Arizona, three in the Kaibab National Forest in Arizona, six in the Prescott National Forest in Arizona, and one in the Coronado National Forest in New Mexico—violated the NEPA because the Forest Service did not prepare full-blown environmental impact statements (EISs). The lawsuit was filed despite the clear intent of Congress that the Forest Service is not required to do the reviews.
Beginning in 1995, Congress enacted legislation to address its concern that the inability of the Forest Service to complete NEPA analyses on expiring term grazing permits would delay renewal of the permits to the detriment of the western ranchers involved. Specifically, Congress sought to reduce the amount of documentation and expense required to conduct NEPA. In 2003, Congress strengthened these protections of ongoing livestock grazing by directing that term grazing permits shall remain in effect pending compliance with NEPA. Then, in 2005, Congress directed that reauthorization of grazing permits is "categorically excluded" from documentation under NEPA if the Forest Service makes certain determinations. The total number of allotments reauthorized under the provision may not exceed 900.
On November 4, 2011, the Arizona Cattle Growers' Association, the Public Lands Council Orme Ranch, Inc., and Bert Teskey, all represented by MSLF, sought and were granted the right to intervene to defend the actions of the U.S. Forest Service.
On May 7, 2012, the Forest Service lodged the administrative record with the Arizona federal district court. On June 1, 2012, WWP filed a motion for summary judgment in which it abandoned the challenge to 9 of the 17 allotments. On June 29, 2012, MSLF’s clients and the Forest Service filed their respective cross-motions for summary judgment on the 8 remaining allotments. On October 3, 2013, the district court heard oral arguments on the pending motions.
On December 17, 2012, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of MSLF’s clients and the Forest Service regarding 7 of the 8 allotments, and granted summary judgment in favor of WWP as to the Angell Allotment. On January 8, 2013, the district court entered a final judgment ordering the Forest Service to complete additional NEPA analysis on the Angell allotment. The district court also ordered that the current grazing permit on the Angell allotment remain in effect.
On March 5, 2013, WWP filed a notice of appeal with respect to seven of the allotments at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. On August 16, 2013, WWP filed an opening brief contesting the district court’s judgment with respect to two of the allotments. On October 16, 2013, MSLF’s clients filed an answering brief with supplemental excerpts of record. On November 15, 2013, WPP filed a reply brief. On May 13, 2015, the case was submitted for review without oral argument. On May 15, 2015, the Ninth Circuit issued a memorandum decision affirming the Arizona federal district court.