RENO, Nev. (CN) - Illegally placed fences in northern Nevada will kill endangered sage grouse and promote overgrazing on badly damaged federal land, the Western Watersheds Project claimed Tuesday in Federal Court.
The Bureau of Land Management plans to build a series of permanent barbed-wire and jack-rail fences along six sections of stream in the Battle Mountain area to help local ranchers, Western Watersheds says in the lengthy complaint.
It claims the BLM violated the National Environmental Policy Act and Administrative Procedures Act by failing to properly evaluate the environmental impacts of the fences, which are part of the bureau's fencing and grazing-management efforts that are "being improperly evaluated in piecemeal fashion."
If the BLM builds the fences, Western Watersheds says, the fences will reduce recreational opportunities and threaten endangered sage grouse, which often are killed when they fly into fences. Fence posts also make good perches for raptors and ravens, which feed on the birds and destroy their nests, and fencing often promotes the growth of non-native weeds.
Building the fences also will promote additional grazing on land that already is badly damaged by overgrazing by livestock and drought, Western Watersheds says.
Five of the six planned fences are in areas designated as priority habitat for the endangered sage grouse, and several would be near the birds' breeding grounds. Overgrazing in recent years badly damaged the stream banks, which need a break to recover from livestock grazing, but the BLM plan to build permanent fences would have the opposite effect, the group says.
Western Watersheds said in a statement that northern Nevada ranchers resisted the BLM's drought closures and bullied it into considering a slew of proposals for new livestock infrastructure to justify more grazing on badly degraded public lands.
Rather than insist upon needed rest periods, Western Watersheds says, the BLM caved to ranchers' demands to let their herds back onto the parched landscapes, and enabled that use by approving the contested fencing.
"New infrastructure is not the answer to fix problems caused by livestock overgrazing," Western Watersheds Project attorney Paul Ruprecht said in the statement. "The answer is to take a comprehensive look at the various ways protection could be accomplished without entrenching livestock grazing any further.
"There are less damaging ways to keep cows out of sensitive areas, including getting rid of the cows. We want to see the BLM explore a range of options when it completes its allotment analysis next year."
Idaho-based Western Watersheds is a regional nonprofit dedicated to protecting and conserving public lands and resources in the West.
It seeks declaratory judgment and an injunction.
BLM officials did not respond to an email request for comment sent after hours Tuesday.
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