Western Ranchers Sustain Big Grazing Victory at Appeals Court

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Mountain States Legal FoundationTwo 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.  The groups claimed the U.S. For­est Ser­vice vio­lat­ed fed­er­al law when it reau­tho­rized per­mits that allow ranch­ers to graze their live­stock on near­by fed­er­al lands as they have done for gen­er­a­tions by not issu­ing full envi­ron­men­tal impact state­ments (EISs) pur­suant to the Nation­al Envi­ron­men­tal Pol­i­cy Act (NEPA) pri­or to reis­su­ing the per­mits.  The Ari­zona Cat­tle Grow­ers’ Asso­ci­a­tion, the Pub­lic Lands Coun­cil, Orme Ranch, Inc., and Bert Teskey, all rep­re­sent­ed by Moun­tain States Legal Foun­da­tion (MSLF), main­tained that Con­gress made clear that no EISs are required.  After the two groups dropped chal­lenges to sev­en For­est Ser­vice deci­sions, the mat­ter was briefed and argued.  The dis­trict court upheld the agency’s rul­ing as to sev­en of the eight decisions.

That the pan­el ruled with­out oral argu­ment shows how one-sided was the rul­ing in our clients’ favor,” said William Per­ry Pend­ley, MSLF president.

In fis­cal years 2005 through 2007, the For­est Ser­vice, with­out con­duct­ing envi­ron­men­tal reviews pur­suant to 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 NEPA.  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.

Moun­tain States Legal Foun­da­tion, cre­at­ed in 1977, is a non­prof­it, pub­lic-inter­est legal foun­da­tion ded­i­cat­ed to indi­vid­ual lib­er­ty, the right to own and use prop­er­ty, lim­it­ed and eth­i­cal gov­ern­ment, and the free enter­prise sys­tem.  Its offices are in sub­ur­ban Den­ver, Colorado.

For more info:  West­ern Water­sheds Project v. U.S. For­est Service