A federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit against the upkeep of roads that provide access to grazing allotments in Eastern Oregon.
The Oregon Natural Desert Association claimed that road maintenance by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management would damage native plants, spread invasive weeds and fragment the habitat of sensitive species.
The environmental group alleged that BLM unlawfully approved maintenance of 576 miles of roads across 3 million acres of public land without conducting environmental reviews.
The BLM argued that road maintenance in its Burns District was routine — such as cleaning ditches, removing rocks and adding gravel — and didn’t require such studies.
ONDA alleged that the agency was actually planning much more extensive upgrades of roads, some of which are virtually nonexistent.
The effect will be to encourage more vehicle traffic in the fragile habitat of the sage grouse, the group claimed.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Papak has rejected all of ONDA’s arguments, finding that BLM “did not act arbitrarily or capriciously” by exempting the road maintenance plans from environmental review.
Papak said he agreed with BLM that the environmental group was attempting to “relitigate” land management plans that closed some roads and left others open.
The BLM was reasonable in determining the road maintenance would not harm the sage grouse or introduce invasive species, the judge said.
“While ONDA certainly disagrees with BLM’s assessment, ONDA’s disagreement is not a sufficient basis to find that BLM acted arbitrarily or capriciously,” Papak said.
The judge also rejected the environmental group’s claim that BLM improperly segmented the road maintenance approvals into six separate decisions over 2 1/2 years.
The group argued that BLM should have analyzed the proposed actions as a whole, given the hundreds of miles of roads involved.
BLM said the road maintenance projects were aimed at “improving access to separate and distinct grazing allotments.”
Papak agreed that each road maintenance decision was justified on an individual basis and BLM did not have to analyze them as “connected actions.”