Public Lands Litigation – update through June 23, 2023


Court decision in Center or Biological Diversity v. U. S. Bureau of Land Management (D. Idaho)

On June 2, the district court vacated a set of approvals by the BLM authorizing development of the Caldwell Canyon phosphate mine in southeastern Idaho.  The court had reversed the decision in January, and now decided that, “to allow P4 to continue construction with the acknowledged potential risks to sage-grouse while the BLM addresses its NEPA violations runs contrary to the purpose of NEPA.”  The news release includes a link to the opinion, and there is additional background here.

New lawsuit

On June 1, the State of Wyoming filed a petition for judicial review in the Wyoming Federal District Court that alleges the Department of Interior failed to meet the 12-month deadline for making a determination on Wyoming’s petition to delist the grizzly bear population in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.  (In making the announcement, state officials accused USDI of “hibernating” on the deadline.)  Additional background is provided here.

Settlement of Center for Biological Diversity v. Haaland (D. D.C.)

On June 5, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service settled this case (discussed here) potentially affecting forest management across the south by agreeing to reconsider (by August 2025) its denial of the plaintiff’s petition to list the southern hognose snake under the Endangered Species Act.

Court decision in Swan View Coalition v. Steele (9th Cir.)

On June 9, the 9th Circuit dismissed as moot an appeal of the Flathead National Forest revised forest plan.  This was discussed here, and local media coverage is here.

Settlement of WildEarth Guardians v. Bail (W. D. Wash.)

On June 12, the Forest Service agreed to complete a new NEPA process to amend the Forest Plan for the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest that would identify which existing grazing allotments are suitable or unsuitable for domestic sheep grazing.  The plaintiffs had argued that the Forest Service continued to authorize domestic sheep grazing on allotments near bighorn herds despite knowing about the threat of spreading disease as far back as 2010.  They had appealed an adverse district court decision to the 9th Circuit.  The article includes a link to the settlement agreement.

New lawsuit:  San Juan Citizens Alliance v. Padilla (D. Colo.)

On June 14, the San Juan Citizens Alliance and the Center for Biological Diversity sought judicial review of the Salter Timber Project on the San Juan National Forest.  The project would involve single tree selection logging of ponderosa pines up to 26 inches in diameter, as well as commercial and pre-commercial thinning. It would also include the development of up to 117 miles of temporary roads in undisclosed locations.  Environmental groups had asked for a 20-inch diameter limit.   Plaintiffs claim site-specific timber sale decisions will be made in individual contracts without NEPA analysis, and the project required an EIS rather than an EA, as well as other NEPA claims.  The news release includes a link to the complaint.  Local media coverage is here.

New lawsuit

On June 14, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Native Ecosystems Council sued the Idaho Panhandle National Forest over its Buckskin Saddle Integrated Restoration Project, which calls for 13,005 acres of commercial logging and another 6,469 acres of noncommercial logging, and 33 miles of new road construction over 15-20 years.  Plaintiffs are concerned about ESA-listed and other wildlife species found in the “old-growth forests,” and disagree that Douglas-fir trees need to be removed for ecological reasons.

Court decision in WildEarth Guardians v. U.S. Forest Service (9th Cir.)

On June 14, the 9th Circuit dismissed this case for lack of standing to sue.  Plaintiffs alleged that Forest Service grazing decisions would lead to an increase in the number of wolf attacks on livestock, which in turn would cause the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to kill more wolves. The court held that, “the lethal removal of wolves cannot fairly be traced to the Service’s livestock grazing decisions, and a remedy that required the Service to make different grazing decisions would not redress the harm.”

New lawsuit:  Patagonia Area Resource Alliance v. U. S. Forest Service (D. Ariz.)

On June 20, eight conservation groups filed a complaint challenging the Coronado National Forest’s approval of the Sunnyside and Flux Canyon exploratory mineral drilling projects without considering the cumulative effects of the area’s mining activity on water in the Sonoita Creek drainage or on endangered species including the Mexican spotted owl.  The article includes a link to the complaint, and we have discussed this here.

New lawsuit:  Wilderness Watch v. Jackson (D. Idaho)

On June 20, Wilderness Watch, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Friends of the Clearwater and Friends of the Bitterroot filed a complaint against the Forest Service regarding administration of aircraft landing strips in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness by the Payette National Forest.  The complaint states that the Forest Service violated the Wilderness Act and other requirements by performing maintenance on the airstrips and not citing pilots who landed there in non-emergency situations in violation of the wilderness plan.  They specifically challenge a 2018 Directive issued by the Regional Forester for the Intermountain Region to maintain four airstrips for public use.

Court decision in Kettle Range Conservation Group v. U. S. Forest Service(E.D. Wash)

See our previous discussion of this June 21 decision here.

New lawsuit:  Center for Biological Diversity v. U. S. Bureau of Land Management (E. D. Cal.)

On June 22, this court action, filed by Earthjustice on behalf of several environmental groups, argues that the San Joaquin Valley is already highly polluted, causing local residents to suffer negative health effects.  The lawsuit challenges BLM’s compliance with federal laws, including the Clean Air Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, the Mineral Leasing Act, and the Freedom of Information Act.  The press release includes a link to the complaint.

New lawsuit

The Lithium Nevada Corporation filed a lawsuit last week against a prayer encampment aimed at stopping the construction of the Thacker Pass Lithium Mine in Nevada.  The lawsuit asks the court to ban seven individuals and environmental watchdog organization Protect Thacker Pass from the construction sites of the lithium project and demands they pay millions of dollars in damages.  The article includes a link to a previous court decision, and we have discussed the tribal angle more here.

Potential frivolous lawsuit

A Wyoming state legislator is objecting to the largest purchase of private property by the BLM in the state’s history.  He claims that the state legislature has the authority to approve or disapprove of land transfers to the federal government, as well as whether to grant the federal government “exclusive jurisdiction” to dictate management over lands it acquires in the state.  His objections to the “conservation purchase” of the 35,670-acre Marton Ranch in 2022 were characterized as “reminiscent of the Sagebrush Rebellion” (50 years ago already).





2 thoughts on “Public Lands Litigation – update through June 23, 2023”

  1. Excellent roundup as always! Thank you, Jon.

    As to the Salter Project.. does anyone know.. why plaintiffs waited two years?
    Really, 20 vs. 26 inch max?
    and what does this even mean..
    “Although environmentalist groups hope to ensure the preservation of larger trees, Rader said the lawsuit is more about process than outcomes.

    “If our preferred alternative was selected, there would be impacts on the ground: We would see more large trees in the Dolores district,” he said. “But that’s not really what this lawsuit is about.””

    Is it really about CBM? But why pick this one of all of the CBMs that are out and about? Looking on the bright side, though, if the main concern is 6 inches on max tree diameter that’s not that far apart at all.

  2. Thanks for the round-up Jon.

    RE: Idaho wilderness airstrips. New lawsuit: Wilderness Watch v. Jackson (D. Idaho)

    More information (including a copy of the complaint, the press release, a FAQ resource sheet, and press clippings) are available here:

    Speaking of press clippings, as the Missoulian noted in this article:

    “The Forest Service does not comment on pending litigation. But publicly and internally, the agency has for more than 40 years recognized that the four landing strips are illegal and shouldn’t be used by the public.”


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