Appeals court revives Oregon grazing challenge

Louse GMA

Federal judge's dismissal of the case overturned

By MATEUSZ PERKOWSKI

Capital Press

A federal appeals court has revived a lawsuit in which environmentalists sought to end grazing on 500,000 acres of public land in southeast Oregon.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned a federal judge's dismissal of the case and ordered him to reconsider the lawsuit's merits.

The Oregon Natural Desert Association and the Western Watersheds Project filed a legal complaint against the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in 2006, claiming that grazing plans for the Louse Canyon Management Area violated federal law.

The groups alleged that the agency failed to consider critical new information about the negative impacts of grazing on the sage grouse, a candidate for the federal list of threatened and endangered species.

Earlier this year, U.S. District Judge Michael Mosman dismissed the case as moot because BLM had withdrawn approval for new fencing and water projects in the area. Environmentalists had opposed those structures, arguing they pose hazards to the rare bird.

The groups appealed that ruling, claiming the case wasn't actually moot since BLM would still allow grazing to continue and would not remove fencing and water projects that were already built under the plan.

A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit has now agreed with the environmentalists, finding that they can pursue their complaint against the agency for allegedly violating the National Environmental Policy Act.

"Because those same conditions are still in effect and the same controversies exist" after the BLM officially withdrew its plan, the lawsuit "was not mooted by superseding agency decisions," the opinion said.

However, the 9th Circuit did not go so far as to grant the environmentalists' request for an injunction that would halt grazing and require fencing and water projects to be torn out or removed.

Determining whether an injunction is warranted is very fact-intensive, the appellate court said. In this case, the BLM has not been able to submit evidence regarding an injunction so the record isn't fully developed.

Even so, the order does require Mosman to review the environmentalists' request.

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