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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.

American Exploration & Mining Association v. U.S. Department of the Interior

Why We Fight:

The federal government may not use an “endangered species” to put an area the size of Massachusetts and New Hampshire in the Rocky Mountains off limits to highly regulated mining activity that provides much needed jobs and mineral resources. 

Summary:

Although the federal government concluded that the greater sage-grouse does not qualify for the Endangered Species Act list, it nonetheless unlawfully restricted mining in ten states and recommended barring mining on more than ten million acres of land in the West.

Legal Question:

Whether the Secretary of the Interior has authority to withdraw ten million acres of federal land from operation of the General Mining Law of 1872?

Plaintiff:

American Exploration & Mining Association

Defendants:

U.S. Department of The Interior; S.M.R. Jewell, Secretary, U.S. Department of the Interior, Janice Schneider, Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Neil Kornze, Director of the Bureau of Land Management, Mary Jo Rugwell, Wyoming State Director, Aden Seidletz, Acting Montana/Dakotas State Director, Timothy M. Murphy, Idaho State Director, John F. Ruhs, Nevada State Director, Jerome E. Perez, California State Director, Jamie E. Connell, Acting Oregon/Washington State Director, Jenna Whitlock, Acting Utah State Director, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Thomas J. Vilsack, Secretary, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Forest Service, Thomas L. Tidwell, Chief of the U.S. Forest Service, Nora B. Rasure, Intermountain Regional Forester, Leanne M. Marten, Northern Regional Forester

Court:

U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia
Completion of Bureau of land Management (BLM) review of sage-grouse land use plan amendments and revisions as well as the BLM Instructional Memoranda.
The greater sage-grouse is the largest grouse species in North America with a range that stretches across 165 million acres in eleven western states:  California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.  The sage-grouse are dependent on contiguous sagebrush habitat during all seasons for breeding, nesting, brood-rearing, and wintering.  Greater sage-grouse population numbers are difficult to measure because of their large-scale, camouflaged habitat.
       

In March of 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) published “12-Month Finding for Petitions to List the Greater Sage-Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) as Threatened or Endangered.”  The FWS found that listing of the greater sage-grouse was “warranted, but precluded” by higher listing priorities.  This finding prompted unprecedented state-led conservation efforts, especially in Wyoming.  These efforts were successful, because on September 22, 2015, citing the success of collaborative conservation efforts, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced that listing of greater sage-grouse was no longer warranted and would be withdrawn from the candidate species list.

In September of 2015, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forest Service finalized their Wyoming Greater Sage-Grouse Land Use Plan Amendments and dismissed protests by the WSGA and others.  Similar plans affect California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, and Utah.

Though the FWS declined to list sage grouse as endangered or threatened, the BLM and U.S. Forest Service, which manage acreage in the Mountain West for “multiple use” purposes, including mining, announced plans to withdraw over ten million acres of federal land in California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming from operation of the General Mining Law of 1872.  They did so in violation of federal law and without allowing public participation in the process by which they sought to amend federal land use plans.

On April 19, 2016, the American Exploration & Mining Association (AEMA) filed its lawsuit challenging three of the four records of decision (RODs approving land use plan amendments and revisions in California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming.

On June 24, 2016, the agencies filed their answer.  Six days later, the agencies filed a motion to sever and transfer AEMA’s case.  Specifically, the agencies requested that the district court sever AEMA’s challenges to the Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming (Bighorn) sub-regions from the rest of AEMA’s claims and transfer those severed claims to the Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming district courts where other challenges were pending.  The rest of AEMA’s claims would remain in the District of Columbia.

On July 25, 2016, AEMA filed its opposition to the motion to sever and transfer.  On August 8, 2016, the agencies filed their reply.  On March 21, 2017, the federal district court rejected the agencies’ motion to sever and transfer the case.  Meanwhile, environmental groups filed a belated motion to intervene in the case, which AEMA opposed on May 10, 2017. 

On June 7, 2017, the Secretary of the Interior issued Secretarial Order No. 3353, which, among other matters, directed the BLM to review the greater sage-grouse land use plan amendments and revisions, as well as the BLM Instruction Memoranda.  In light of Secretarial Order 3353, the parties filed a joint motion to stay litigation.  On July 6, 2017, the district court granted the stay for 90 days, vacated all deadlines, and ordered the parties to file a status report on October 4, 2017, on whether the stay should be continued.  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.

On October 11, 2017, the BLM issued notice of its intent to amend its sage grouse plans and solicited comments.  On November 21, 2017, the Forest Service issued a similar notice.  AEMA timely submitted comments in response to both solicitations.  Meanwhile, on October 4, 2017, the parties filed a joint status report recommending that the stay be continued for another 90 days.  On November 2, 1017, the district court extended the stay until January 31, 2018.

No Status Updates
  • Wyoming Ranchers Ask Court To Uphold Original Purpose Of Endangered Species Act

    Jul 25, 2018
    A group of Wyoming ranchers who, for years, have been forced to deal with the ever-increasing Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly bear population today asked a federal district court in Montana to stop radical environmental groups and Indian tribes from forcing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to retain management control over the grizzly bear.
  • Miners Oppose Belated Enviro Intervention in Ten Million Acre Sage-Grouse Lockup Case

    May 10, 2017
    A 120-year-old nonprofit, non-partisan mining trade association with thousands of members today filed its opposition to the belated attempt by four environmental groups to intervene in a lawsuit it filed in federal district court in Washington, D.C. in 2016 challenging a decision by federal officials, allegedly to protect the sage-grouse, to restrict unlawfully mineral exploration and development on millions of acres of federal land in California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming.
  • Miners Celebrate Rejection of Fed’s Demand to Break Up Land Lockup Case

    Mar 21, 2017
    A 122-year-old nonprofit, non-partisan mining trade association with thousands of members today celebrated the rejection by a federal district court in Washington, D.C. of the demand by federal lawyers to break up and transfer its complaint challenging a decision by federal officials, allegedly to protect the sage-grouse, to restrict unlawfully mineral exploration and development on millions of acres of federal land in California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming.
  • Miners Sue Over Ten Million Acre Sage-Grouse Land Lockup

    Apr 19, 2016
    A 120-year-old nonprofit, non-partisan mining trade association with thousands of members today filed its complaint in federal district court in Washington, D.C. challenging a decision by federal officials, allegedly to protect the sage-grouse, to restrict unlawfully mineral exploration and development on millions of acres of federal land in California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming.


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