Judge rules against BLM in grazing appeal in Nevada

An Interior Department judge has ruled in favor of a conservation group's appeal of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's grazing plan for a large swath of eastern Nevada.

Administrative Law Judge Andrew Pearlstein last week granted Western Watershed Projects' motion for a summary judgment in its appeal of the BLM Ely district's grazing plan for 1.3 million acres of public land in White Pine County.

Jon Marvel, the group's executive director, praised the ruling, saying it makes clear that the BLM is legally required to consider management alternatives that reduce or remove livestock grazing where conflicts with wildlife exist.

He said domestic sheep grazing permitted on eight affected allotments threatens the spread of deadly disease to Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep. Sheep grazing also affects sage grouse, pygmy rabbits, soils and vegetation, he added.

"We look forward to reviewing BLM's court-ordered analysis of the benefit to wildlife that removing livestock grazing on these 1.3 million acres of public land promises," Marvel said in a statement.

BLM spokesman Chris Hanefeld said the agency hasn't decided whether to appeal the ruling. If the agency fails to appeal, it must prepare a new environmental assessment for the eight allotments that addresses such alternatives as reducing or removing livestock.

"I don't know what direction we'll take yet," Hanefeld told The Associated Press. "This sort of ruling doesn't happen very often, but it's not unprecedented."

In his decision, Pearlstein noted the need for BLM to apply a "rule of reason" in considering alternatives in its environmental assessments, particularly in cases with competing resource values such as wildlife.

"BLM's extreme bias toward livestock grazing and its mismanagement of public lands in the Ely district has continued to ignore livestock grazing impacts to native wildlife on these remote public lands for long enough," said Katie Fite, biodiversity director for Western Watersheds Project.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.