Ag Families v. Environmentalist: Public Lands Grazing Decision
June 17, 2016

This week, U.S. District Court Judge Brian Morris handed down his decision in Gallatin Wildlife Association v. U.S. Forest Service, Helle Livestock and Rebish/Konen Livestock and Montana Wool Growers and American Sheep Industry Associations, reported NorthernAg Network.

Last year, the Gallatin Wildlife Association filed a lawsuit against the USFS and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to prohibit domestic sheep grazing on two allotments in the Gravelly Mountains of Southwest Montana. This week a partial victory for the ranching families was achieved.

The injunction to remove domestic sheep from public lands was denied. The court concluded that the forest service's methodology for the bighorn sheep viability analysis for the Revised Forest Plan proved to be sound and complied with the National Environmental Policy Act. This was a relief to the families involved in the lawsuit, as their sheep will be able to remain on the historic grazing allotments.

In the end, the court did find fault with the forest service for not disclosing an important part of NEPA. During oral arguments, the main area of question that raised concern was how the USFS conducted the NEPA analysis and how a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was published between the USFS and USFWS.

The court stated, "The USFS violated its obligations under NEPA when it failed to disclose the existence of the 2002 MOU and the 2008 MOU in its EIS for the Revised Forest Plan. This information constituted more than 'needless detail' that warranted disclosure. Finally, the USFS violated NEPA when it failed to demonstrate that it had evaluated new information to determine whether it should perform supplemental NEPA analyses for the AMPs."

Basically, this means the forest service will have to issue a supplemental EIS for the revised forest plan for both the 2002 and 2008 MOU's. The MOU's evaluate the environmental consequences of the EIS itself.

The court also said the forest service will need to consider in the supplemental EIS:
  1. the reintroduction of bighorn sheep;
  2. the 2011 listing of bighorn sheep as a sensitive species;
  3. the existence of the MOUs;
  4. updated information regarding disease transmission between domestic sheep and bighorn sheep; and
  5. the consideration by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks that bighorn sheep could be reintroduced to closed allotments.
The Forest Service has 30 days to provide the court with a timeline for a separate NEPA to take place.

A copy of the judgement is available at www.northernag.net/Portals/1/Users/149/57/4757/6.14.16%20Order%20SJ%20Helle%20case.pdf.

Reprinted from NorthernAg Network