Continued Litigation on Public Lands Could Mean an End to Grazing
Your Tax Dollars Fund Environmental Groups’ Suits
By Ty Kelly & Anita Waite, Mohave County Farm Bureau and Bonnie Jones & Philip Bashaw, Arizona Farm Bureau
Through the use of litigation, various environmental groups in Arizona are hampering government land management agencies’ ability to fulfill their mission. Arizona Farm Bureau members, many of whom depend upon leasing federal lands for their livelihood, are taking action.
For overview, these leases are predominately for grazing cattle and sheep. Grazing fees bring in more than $17.5 million to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) annually, not to mention the improvements lessees make to the land such as protective fencing, water development, and invasive species eradication as well as deterring wildfire through managed grazing. All of this and our members are feeding America. The cattle industry alone contributes more than $3.2 billion to Arizona’s economy every year, according to the Arizona Beef Council.
Farm Bureau supports several management principles for federal lands, including that all federal land managers make every effort to utilize all grazing allotments and keep them open to livestock grazing, and supports the BLM in their efforts to do this. But in the last several years, environmental groups whose stated purpose is to eliminate grazing from public lands have used the court system to hinder land agencies like the BLM in their mission to sustain “the health, diversity, and productivity of the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations,” according to the BLM.
One Group Overwhelms BLM with Petitions, Protests and Appeals
Under a sustained effort, one environmental group in particular has inundated the BLM offices with petitions, protests and appeals. The Western Watersheds Project (WWP), based out of Haley, ID, and with offices in several western states including Arizona, boasts they are “among the most sophisticated and aggressive in using the courts” to further their anti-grazing agenda. Between 2000 and 2009, WWP filed at least 91 lawsuits in the federal district courts and at least 31 appeals in the federal appellate courts, according to the Budd-Falen Law Offices.
Currently in Arizona, WWP has had at least one case in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, and at least six in the Arizona District courts against the BLM and other government land management agencies, affecting lessees in Yuma, La Paz, Mohave, Pinal, Maricopa and Pima counties. Three of the Arizona District court cases were settled for undisclosed amounts, two were issued judgments against the defendants (USFWS and USFS), and one is still open. Not included are the several cases before the Department of the Interior’s Office of Hearings and Appeals.
By challenging the work of the BLM in court, the WWP accomplishes its anti-grazing goal in several ways. BLM agents spend their time writing responses to the multitude of petitions, protests and appeals the WWP submits, diverting resources from studying the land, issuing permit renewals or granting new permits.
Your Tax Dollars Fund Their Litigation Efforts
The WWP funds the majority of this litigation through the Equal Access to Justice Act. In a five-year period, over $4.7 billion in taxpayer dollars were paid to environmental groups for cases against the federal government. In Idaho, WWP has received just under $1 million for winning lawsuits in just 14 cases. At present, the amount issued to WWP from their Arizona lawsuits cannot be determined, as funds disbursed to winning environmental groups are not logged in a public database, according to the Budd-Falen Law Offices.
Arizona Farm Bureau raises these concerns in the hope that some notice will be paid to the damage environmental groups, particularly WWP, are doing to the BLM’s ability to fulfill their mission, and to the permit holders whose livelihoods depend on the best possible range management and timely permit processing.
Grazing has been, and continues to be, an integral part of the management of public lands to the greatest benefit for all. Arizona Farm Bureau members stand willing to help preserve this critical range management tool for future generations.
If you every have an opportunity to connect with an Arizona rancher, ask them about their range management practices. Learn what they do to preserve and protect the land.