Federal Lands Litigation – update through June 20, 2024


New lawsuit:  WildEarth Guardians v. U. S. Forest Service (D. New Mexico)

On June 4, WildEarth Guardians, Western Watersheds Project and Caldera Action sued the Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife Service over continued trespassing by cattle from the Santa Fe National Forest onto the Valles Caldera National Preserve, managed by the National Park Service.  Plaintiffs allege several violations of the Endangered Species Act related to effects on the endangered Jemez Mountain salamander and New Mexico meadow jumping mouse, and the threatened Mexican spotted owl.  The article includes a link to the complaint.  Quote of the month:

Tuell (WWP) acknowledges that fence maintenance and other means of keeping the Valles Caldera free from trespass cattle is expensive. She proposes increasing grazing fees to cover the costs.  “The fee is decades old,” she said. “It’s $1.35 to graze a cow and a calf for a month. I challenge you to find another animal you could feed for $1.35. Maybe a goldfish?” 

End of the road for Sawtooth Mountain Ranch v. U. S. Forest Service

On June, 10 the U. S. Supreme Court refused to weigh in on whether plaintiff’s claim about a trail easement within the Sawtooth National Recreation Area is time-barred, or whether they have any relief available under the Fifth Amendment takings clause.  The district court opinion in favor of the government (upheld by the 9th Circuit) was discussed here.

New lawsuit:  Center for Biological Diversity v. U. S. Forest Service (D. Oregon)

On June 11, the Center filed a lawsuit to protect the federally threatened distinct population segment of Pacific marten from the detrimental effects of off-road vehicle activity in the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area.  It claims that the Forest Service has failed to comply with ESA, NEPA and its land management plans for the Siuslaw National Forest and the Recreation Area in allowing motorized use to occur.  The complaint specifically targets Forest Service special use permits for large off-highway vehicle events.

New lawsuit:  Oregon Wild v. Warnack (D. Oregon)

On June 13, Oregon Wild and WildEarth Guardians filed a lawsuit against the Youngs Rock Rigdon project on the Willamette National Forest.  They object to the parts of the project that would occur in mature and old growth forests, “given the significant loss of carbon storage and impacts to threatened and endangered species such as the northern spotted owl.”  The complaint alleges violations of NEPA’s requirements for a hard look at environmental impacts and consideration of reasonable alternatives.  The press release includes a link to the complaint.

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

On June 18, the 9th Circuit affirmed the district court holding that reinitiation of ESA consultation was not required for the Forest Service’s 1995 national policy on black bear baiting because of increased grizzly bear populations or because two grizzly bears were killed by bear baiting 15 years ago.  (Meanwhile, another grizzly bear was killed by a hunter at a bait station on June 10.  And the new information is not so much that populations are growing but that their range is expanding, and this grizzly was “outside of the species’ known range.”)


New lawsuit:  Center for Biological Diversity v. Berger (D. Colorado)

Welcome to the world of AI summaries from Google – this is what it gave me for “Pawnee grassland lawsuit:”

“On June 10, 2024, the Center for Biological Diversity, represented by Advocates for the West, filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to challenge the agency’s authorization of drilling permits in Colorado’s Pawnee National Grassland. The suit claims that the BLM has failed to protect the grassland’s shortgrass prairie from oil and gas extraction, which is a threat to the area. The lawsuit also asks a federal judge to throw out a 2018 policy and 26 permits for wells on and near the grassland.  The lawsuit also claims that the BLM is violating its responsibilities under the Mineral Leasing Act and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act. The BLM stated that it lacked the authority to consider the potential harm to wildlife, air, water, dark skies, or the grassland’s visual character because the federal minerals would be extracted by horizontal fracking from wells built on private or state lands.”

Could be I’ll soon be obsolete.  (The news release has a link to the complaint.)

New lawsuit:  Utah v. Haaland (D. Utah)

On June 18, the states of Utah and Wyoming challenged the recently issued BLM regulations that authorized management of lands for conservation because the agency used a categorical exclusion to meet NEPA requirements.  BLM’s categorical exclusion covers “[p]olicies, directives, regulations, and guidelines: that are of an administrative, financial, legal, technical, or procedural nature; or whose environmental effects are too broad, speculative, or conjectural to lend themselves to meaningful analysis and will later be subject to the NEPA process, either collectively or case-by-case.” 43 C.F.R. §46.210(i).  The complaint alleges that the rationale for applying this CE to this regulation, including  a summary dismissal of extraordinary circumstances, is inadequate and therefore arbitrary (and there is a link to the complaint in this article).


Notice of Intent to Sue

On June 18, the Flathead-Lolo-Bitterroot Citizen Task Force filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue the state and the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service over the state’s plan to capture grizzlies in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem and transport them to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem to improve the genetic health of the Yellowstone population and contribute to species recovery.  Plaintiffs allege this will harm those grizzly bears and no effects analysis was done. They also disagree with designating the translocated bears as “experimental” with the intent of decreasing their protection under ESA.

Notice of Intent to Sue

On June 20, Center for Biological Diversity, Bird Alliance of Oregon, Cascadia Wildlands, and Oregon Wild threatened to sue the Fish and Wildlife Service over its February decision pursuant to ESA to (again) not list the north Oregon coast population of red tree voles.  Tree voles are harmed by logging and fires, and the area involved is dominated by private lands and Oregon state forests, while the population’s stronghold is now on federal lands.  The news release includes a link to the Notice.


Court decision

On June 7, Canada’s federal court determined that Canada’s Minister of the Environment and Climate Change took too long when he waited eight months to recommend the federal cabinet issue an emergency order to protect the northern spotted owl.  This was a violation of the Species at Risk Act.  As discussed here, the Canada population of spotted owls is about to flatline, and logging is still occurring in owl habitat.  According to the recent article,

Logging — alongside roads, railroads and hydro and gas lines — remain primary threats to the spotted owl, wrote the judge in his decision.  Roy said the spotted owl is threatened by climate change, noise disturbance, and competition over prey and habitat with the invasive Barred owl. But the evidence before the court, he said, identified the loss of mature old-growth forest habitat from logging as the primary reason for the owl’s decline.

(No mention of fire.)

Motion to dismiss denied in Atencio v. New Mexico (County of Santa Fe district court)

On June 10, a New Mexico judge cleared the way for a lawsuit filed a year ago to proceed that alleges the state has failed to meet its state constitutional obligations for protecting against pollution from oil and gas wells.  The State has in recent years adopted rule changes aimed at limiting emissions from the oil and gas industry; however, environmental groups have raised concerns about enforcement.  The complaint is here.

Criminal conviction

An individual has pleaded guilty to illegally digging at an archeological site on the DeSoto National Forest in Mississippi, violating the Archaeological Resources Protection Act.  According to court documents, the accused used a tractor to illegally dig at an archeological site that was later determined to have been labeled as a protected site because it contained material remains of past human activities that are of archeological interest.










3 thoughts on “Federal Lands Litigation – update through June 20, 2024”

  1. (1) Seems to me like trespass is the responsibility of the owner, not the FS.
    It also seems like if the idea for wolves in Colorado is to have range riders to shoo them off, then the Park Service could have volunteer range riders to keep trespass cattle out.
    It also seem like there might be technical solutions, such as virtual fencing that might work. I’m also unclear how much spotted owls care about cattle grazing.. Anyway this problem does not seem to me to be best resolved by litigation. Perhaps the plaintiffs have tried other options and will comment on those.

    (2) the BLM case is interesting.. I’m suspecting the subsurface rights are all owned by feds? Otherwise, if the drilling was on private land of private mineral resources, it would be hard to find a federal decision nexus. Perhaps AI tends to gloss over things that would raise questions to those more knowledgeable.

    (3) How did wildlife bios know that grizzlies in Yellowstone needed more genetic diversity? They seem to be doing OK and expanding their range.. that would be really important to me in judging whether the translocation is worth the effort.

  2. (1) I would say that the federal government is responsible for ensuring that its permittees comply with ESA requirements.

    (2) The AI response does refer to “federal” minerals. (What was interesting is the first time I looked at it, I didn’t see that mentioned so I was going to add that information, but by the time I went to post it, it had appeared.)

    (3) Legally, the recovery plan calls for connectivity to provide for genetic diversity, and this was an issue in the court case that rejected delisting the Yellowstone population.

    Biologically, here is what the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee has put out (2022):
    “Grizzly bears living in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) have been isolated from other grizzly bear populations for possibly over 100 years, and their continued genetic isolation is a long-term conservation concern. The rate of inbreeding has been very low (0.2% over 25 years), and no inbreeding effects have been detected. Additionally, effective population size has increased well above the level where short-term genetic effects would be expected, and is approaching criteria for long-term population viability. Nonetheless, with lower genetic diversity than other North American grizzly bear populations, it is recognized that infusion of genetic material from other populations would enhance the adaptive capacity and long-term persistence of the GYE population.


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