(CN) – The 9th Circuit upheld an order barring Bush-era changes to the Bureau of Land Management’s grazing policies that would thin the government’s oversight of grazing on 160 million acres of public lands throughout the West.
Environmentalists originally challenged the BLM’s revised grazing policy, and ranchers intervened to help argue the government’s case.
When a federal judge barred the agency from enforcing the 2006 regulations, the BLM and the ranchers appealed separately, though the agency eventually withdrew its appeal.
The ranchers, however, continued to defend the changes, which would generally reduce or altogether eliminate public involvement in the management of grazing for public lands.
A three-judge panel for the 9th Circuit rejected their appeal, ruling that the BLM had ignored its own experts’ concerns about the changes.
The BLM knew that the changes could threaten endangered species, the panel ruled, yet it concluded that there would be no impact. The court said the BLM offered no reasoned analysis for its conclusion and ignored concerns raised by other agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Environmental Protection Agency.
The 9th Circuit said the BLM essentially ignored the responses it received throughout the public comment period it held for the proposed changes.
“In sum, there is resounding evidence from agency experts that the eighteen amendments to the BLM’s grazing regulations, i.e. the 2006 Regulations, ‘may affect’ listed species and their habitat,” Judge Richard Paez wrote for the Portland-based panel.
The ranchers, led by the Public Lands Council and the American Farm Bureau Federation, have vowed to continue the fight on their own after the BLM dropped its appeal.