Ag Policy Blog

Farm Groups Intervene in Sage Grouse Plan

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Staff Reporter
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The American Farm Bureau Federation and Utah Farm Bureau Federation asked the U.S. District Court District of Utah in Salt Lake City to allow the groups to intervene in a lawsuit filed in February challenging the federal government’s implementation of a plan to protect the endangered sage grouse. The suit alleges federal agencies failed to follow a series of federal regulations in announcing a plan.

In particular, the lawsuit raises a series of concerns that the plan would make it difficult for farmers and ranchers in Western states to manage grazing, as well as a host of other land-use decisions.

The lawsuit challenges federal land management plans that impose restrictions on ranching and other human activities in Utah, as part of a larger effort to manage federal lands for species protection rather than for multiple uses as required by law.

In a motion to intervene filed with the court Tuesday, the farm groups allege that the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service ignored numerous congressional mandates designed to ensure transparency and management of federal lands for multiple uses and sustained yields.

The suit alleges the federal agencies violated the Administrative Procedure Act, the Federal Advisory Committee Act, Federal Land Policy and Management Act, the National Forest Management Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

“Ranchers have long used federal lands for grazing,” AFBF President Zippy Duvall said in a news release Wednesday. “And all that time, ranchers have been at the forefront of protecting forage and water resources so that wildlife and ranching can thrive together. These plans, however, hang ranchers out to dry in the drought. Western ranchers have faced continued threats to their water rights and reductions in their ability to graze livestock on federal lands. We have to intervene now to preserve our ranches and our way of life.”

In the farm groups’ motion to intervene they said the state of Utah in particular already has made strides in protecting the sage grouse without federal intervention.

“Utah has long devoted resources to conserving sage grouse population and habitat. As detailed in state plaintiffs’ complaint, Utah issued a comprehensive sage grouse management plan in 2002, and it revised that plan in 2009,” the motion said. “Then in 2013, the state adopted a sage grouse conservation plan in good faith reliance on the U.S. Department of Interior’s invitation to Western states to develop state-based conservation plans and regulatory mechanisms to help ensure that the federal government would not have to list the sage grouse as a threatened or endangered species under the Endangered Species Act.

“As a result of Utah’s considerable efforts, the sage grouse population has increased since 1965. Moreover, a recent report by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, estimated a minimum breading sage grouse population of over 424,645 birds, with positive trends identified in Utah, Wyoming and Idaho since 1965.

“Despite the extensive efforts by Utah and other Western states to implement conservation plans and collaborate with the federal government with respect to sage grouse conservation, BLM and the Forest Service ultimately abandoned that state-specific approach in favor of adopting more restrictive prescriptions through amending resource management plans and land management plans for BLM and National Forest System lands, respectively.”

The lawsuit claims the federal plan to protect the sage grouse in Utah poses a threat to grazing, by implementing a number of restrictions on its timing as it relates to the sage grouse breeding and nesting periods.

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