Wyoming cattlemen file for their day in court
October 28, 2015
A group of Wyoming cattlemen are accusing lawmakers of being lawbreakers.
Have rights been violated?
The ranchers want to know if federal agencies setting aside 16 million acres as preferred sage grouse habitat dismisses the rights of ranchers – breaks the law.
So they have sued for the answer.
Remember that grade school math teacher who made you show your work? That's what a lawsuit filed this week in federal court compels the Department of Agriculture to do.
"We have asked them to show how they arrived at this decision," says Jim Magagna, executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association. "We feel the BLM and the forest service made promises to ranchers that were properly grazing, that they basically pretended to be working with them."
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A public interest law firm took on the case.
The suit asks the federal judicial system to look into some questionable choices that appear to contradict executive order at the state level and rights to proper grazing.
"Once we see the administrative record, we will begin to address specific issues," Magagna says.
How western states manage sage grouse habitat was signed into federal law last month and was being championed as an example of public-private partnership.
The sage grouse is considered to be a valuable native species that needs large spaces of contiguous habitat to thrive.
"Wyoming was being held up as an example of everybody working together," Magagna says.
But the suit says that the Bureau of Land Management and the US Forest Service used capricious and arbitrary practices and abused their powers to amend land use.
There are about three thousand grazing permits in Wyoming, two thirds of which are in sage grouse habitat, Magagna says.
The suit identifies leased acreage in the Thunder Basin National Grassland, Bridger-Teton National Forest and Medicine Bow National Forest, and the WY Greater Sage-Grouse FEIS.
The acreage in question represents 25 percent of the state's grazing land.
Proper grazing, says Magagna, is already provided for in an executive order and it doesn't do the bird any harm.
A BLM spokesperson said the agency can't comment on pending litigation, but that the management plan signed into law last month is consistent with the agency's mandate to protect multi-use of public lands.
Mountain States Legal Foundation of Colorado is handling the case.
So far the stock growers association has not tapped its own legal fund.
"The harm to our members is not real yet," Magagna says. "It is potential. We're not going to ask anybody to write big checks when they haven't felt the pain yet."
–Wyoming Stockgrowers Association