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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. Zinke

Why We Fight:

Environmental groups may not use the Endangered Species Act to close federal land in the West to lawful uses that are vital to local economies.

Summary:

In response to demands by environmental groups, the federal government adopted land management plans that threaten historic and important economic activities to protect a bird that is neither threatened nor endangered.

Legal Question:

Whether an environmental group can prevent the use of federal lands in six States because of purported impacts to greater sage-grouse habitat?

Plaintiff:

Western Watersheds Project (WWP)

Defendant:

Sally Jewell, Secretary of the Interior; U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI)

Intervenor:

Petroleum Association of Wyoming and Wyoming Stock Growers Association; State of Wyoming; State of Utah, both represented by MSLF.

Court:

U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho (No. 08cv516)
The Bureau of Land Management will complete its amendments to the Craters of the Moon Resource Management Plan.
Since 2006, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has issued 18 Resource Management Plans (RMPs) as to more than 25 million acres of purported greater sage-grouse habitat in six States—California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming—that set forth permissible uses of the lands and outline conditions under which each use is allowed. Each RMP permits extractive uses such as oil and gas development and livestock grazing.

On December 17, 2008, the Western Watersheds Project "WWP" challenged the 18 RMPs alleging that the BLM had failed to protect various sage-grouse populations. The group asserts that, in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the BLM failed to take a "hard look" at the direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts of livestock grazing and energy development, including the impact on global warming, and failed to consider a reasonable range of alternatives, and that, in violation of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA), the BLM failed to prevent undue degradation of the public lands and resources.

On February 20, 2009, federal lawyers filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit or, in the alternative, to sever and transfer it to the various States, arguing, in part, that the Idaho court may not consider land management actions taken in other States. On March 18, 2009, the State of Wyoming filed a motion to intervene. On March 20, 2009, MSLF, on behalf of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming and the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, filed a motion to intervene.

On May 7, 2009, the district court denied the motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, to sever and transfer. On May 12, 2009, the district court granted the motions to intervene by the State of Wyoming and of the Wyoming Petroleum Association (PAW) and Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA). On March 15, 2010, the Court granted the State of Utah's motion to intervene. 

On May 21, 2009, the BLM filed a motion for reconsideration of the district court's decision denied the motion to sever and transfer, which was denied by the court on January 6, 2010. On August 14, 2009, WWP and BLM proposed briefing on two "test" RMPs, Craters of the Moon (Idaho) and Pinedale (Wyoming), which was approved by the court on November 30, 2009. On December 8, 2009, the administrative record for the two test RMPs was filed.

On March 5, 2010, Secretary Salazar announced that listing of the sage-grouse was warranted, but precluded, because it is low on the agency's priority list of species.

On February 28, 2011, Wyoming, the PAW and the WSGA filed a joint motion to dismiss the Wyoming RMPs from the case as moot in light of the federal defendants' notice of intent to amend those RMPs. On March 14, 2011, WWP filed a brief in opposition. On March 18, 2011, Wyoming, the PAW and the WSGA filed a joint reply.

On March 14, 2011, WWP filed a motion for partial summary judgment on the Craters and Pinedale RMPs along with declarations from its members in an attempt to establish standing. On May 9, 2011, the PAW and the WSGA filed a cross-motion for partial summary judgment on the Craters and Pinedale RMPs and moved to strike substantial portions of WWP's declarations; Wyoming filed a cross-motion for partial summary judgment on the Pinedale RMP; the BLM filed a cross-motion for partial summary judgment on the Pinedale RMP and a motion for remand on the Craters RMP to re-study the Craters RMP.

On June 3, 2011, WWP filed an opposition to the motions to strike. On June 8, 2011, WWP filed an opposition to the motion for remand. On June 14, 2011, WWP filed its response/reply to the cross-motions for summary judgment. On June 15, 2011, PAW/WSGA filed a reply on their motion to strike. On July 14, 2011 and July 19, 2011, Wyoming, PAW/WSGA, and the BLM filed their respective replies to their motions for summary judgment. On July 26, 2011, the district court heard oral arguments on the pending motions. On September 28, 2011, the district court ruled in favor of Western Watersheds Project, holding that the BLM violated NEPA and FLPMA in issuing the Craters and Pinedale RMPs.

On December 12, 2011, WWP filed a motion for interim injunctive relief while the BLM corrects its adjudicated NEPA and FLPMA violations.  After the parties briefed that motion, an evidentiary hearing on the motion was held April 9, 10, and 11, 2012.  Post-hearing briefs were filed on May 25, 2012.  On November 20, 2012, the district court denied WWP’s request for interim injunctive relief and ordered the BLM to complete the Pinedale RMP amendment by the end of 2014, and the Craters RMP by the end of 2016.  

On March 9, 2013, the BLM moved to dismiss 12 of the 14 remaining RMPs on prudential mootness grounds.  On March 23, 2013, PAW/WSGA filed a memorandum in support the BLM’s motion. On April 15, 2013, WWP filed an opposition and, on April 29, 2013, the BLM and PAW/WSGA filed replies.

On June 14, 2013, WWP moved to consolidate the case with a new case in another part of Idaho, which challenges the BLM’s Cave Valley and Lake Valley Watershed Restoration Plan.  WWP argued that because it alleges harm to sage grouse in both cases, the cases should be consolidated.  On June 27, 2013, PAW/WSGA filed its opposition to that motion.  The State of Utah and the BLM also filed oppositions. On July 15, 2013, WWP filed its reply.  On March 13, 2014, the district court denied the motion to consolidate finding that there were "not common questions of law and fact between the two cases.

On November 7, 2014, the Idaho federal district court denied the BLM’s motion to dismiss 12 of the 14 remaining RMPs from the case.  The district court ruled that it would be more prudent to wait until the amendments to those RMPs were finalized to determine whether WWP’s concerns were addressed.  On December 24, 2014, the BLM moved for an extension of time in which to complete the amendment to the Pinedale RMP.  The BLM claimed that it could not complete the amendment by December 31, 2014, and that it needed eight more months to complete the process.  On January 8, 2015, the Idaho federal district court granted the BLM’s motion and gave the BLM until August 31, 2015, to complete the amendment to the Pinedale RMP.  On August 21, 2015, the BLM moved for an extension of time, to and including September 30, 2015, to complete the amendment to the Pinedale RMP.  On August 25, 2015, the district court granted the motion.

On September 30, 2015, the BLM filed notice of the completion of the RMP amendments, which allegedly provide increased protections for the sage-grouse.  The BLM further advised that the remand process with respect to the Pinedale RMP has now been completed.  With respect to the Craters of the Moon RMP, the BLM advised that the remand process would not be complete until a livestock grazing EIS was completed.  On December 20, 2016, the BLM filed a motion to extend its time to complete the Craters of the Moon RMP through July 31, 2017, which the federal district court granted on December 21, 2016.

  • Wyoming Groups Win: No Restrictions Over Sage Grouse

    Nov 7, 2012
    DENVER, CO. Two Wyoming associations today celebrated the ruling by an Idaho federal district court rejecting demands by an environmental group to restrict federal land use following the court’s 2011 ruling that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) violated federal law in preparing two Resource Mana
  • Wyoming Groups: No Basis For Sage Grouse Restrictions

    May 25, 2012
    DENVER, CO. Two Wyoming associations today urged an Idaho federal district court to reject demands by an environmental group to restrict federal land use following the court's 2011 ruling that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) violated federal law in preparing two Resource Management Plans (RMPs)
  • Wyoming Groups Battle Before Idaho Court For Jobs

    Apr 11, 2012
    DENVER, CO. Two Wyoming associations today ended three days of hearings before an Idaho federal district court at which they presented expert testimony and evidence to persuade the district court to reject demands by an environmental group to restrict use of federal land following the court’s 2011
  • Idaho Federal Court Strikes Land Use In Sage Grouse Suit

    Sep 28, 2011
    DENVER, CO. An Idaho federal district court today ruled against two Wyoming associations in a federal lawsuit filed by an environmental group on the use of tens of millions of acres of federal land in six western States. The Wyoming Stock Growers Association and Petroleum Association of Wyoming ha
  • Wyoming Groups Argue Sage Grouse Lawsuit In Idaho

    Jul 26, 2011
    DENVER, CO. Two Wyoming associations were before an Idaho federal district court today to urge the court to dismiss a lawsuit by an environmental group and rule in their favor in the group’s lawsuit seeking to lock up tens of millions of acres of federal land in six western States. The Wyoming Sto
  • Wyoming Groups Tell Court To Void Sage Grouse Lawsuit

    Jul 19, 2011
    DENVER, CO. Two Wyoming associations today filed with an Idaho federal district court a reply to arguments by an environmental group and urged the court to rule in their favor in the group’s lawsuit seeking to lock up tens of millions of acres of federal land in six western States. The Wyoming Sto
  • Wyoming Groups Seek Ruling In Land-Lockup Lawsuit

    May 9, 2011
    DENVER, CO. Two Wyoming associations today urged an Idaho federal district court to grant partial summary judgment in a lawsuit by an environmental group to lock up tens of millions of acres of federal land in six western States. The Wyoming Stock Growers Association and the Petroleum Association
  • Wyoming & Groups Seek To Dismiss Land-Lockup Lawsuit

    Feb 28, 2011
    DENVER, CO. The State of Wyoming and two Wyoming associations today sought to dismiss the Wyoming portions of a lawsuit by an environmental group to lock up more than 25 million acres of federal land in six western States. The State of Wyoming, along with the Wyoming Stock Growers Association as w


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