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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.

Western Watersheds Project v. U.S. Forest Service

Legal Question:

Whether the U.S. Forest Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by relying on a categorical exclusion established by Congress in reauthorizing grazing permits on land managed by the Forest Service?

Plaintiffs:

Western Watershed Project and Center for Biological Diversity

Defendant:

U.S. Forest Service

Intervenor:

Arizona Cattle Growers' Association, Public Lands Council, Orme Ranch, Inc., and Bert Teskey, all represented by MSLF

Court:

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
Unknown.

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.

 

No Status Updates
  • Western Ranchers Sustain Big Grazing Victory at Appeals Court

    May 15, 2015
    Two ranching organizations, an Arizona ranch, and an Arizona rancher today won a major victory at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit when a three-judge panel affirmed a ruling by an Arizona federal district court that granted them summary judgment over a demand by environmental groups that grazing permits be revoked and then subjected to lengthy federal environmental review.
  • Western Ranchers Defend Big Victory in Grazing Battle

    Oct 16, 2013
    Two ranching organizations, an Arizona ranch, and an Arizona rancher at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit today defended their victory from an Arizona federal district court that granted them summary judgment in a lawsuit by environmental groups demanding that grazing permits be revoked and subjected to lengthy federal environmental review.
  • Western Ranchers Win Big Victory In Grazing Battle

    Dec 17, 2012
    Two ranching organizations, an Arizona ranch, and an Arizona rancher today emerged victorious after an Arizona federal district court granted them summary judgment in a lawsuit by environmental groups demanding that grazing permits be revoked and subjected to lengthy federal environmental review.
  • Western Ranchers Argue For Judgment In Grazing Battle

    Oct 3, 2012
    Two ranching organizations, an Arizona ranch, and an Arizona rancher today appeared in an Arizona federal district court to ask the court to grant them summary judgment in a lawsuit by two environmental groups demanding that grazing permits be revoked and subjected to lengthy federal environmental review.
  • Western Ranchers Demand Judgment In Grazing Battle

    Jun 29, 2012
    Two ranching organizations, an Arizona ranch, and an Arizona rancher today asked an Arizona federal district court to grant them summary judgment in a lawsuit by two environmental groups demanding that grazing permits be revoked and subjected to lengthy federal environmental review.


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