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Judge OK’s Federal Range Work in Nevada

RENO, Nev. (CN) - The Bureau of Land Management can continue improving 600,000 acres of wildlife habitat in northern Nevada after a federal judge found it properly assessed potential environmental impacts.

Uncle Sam took the proper steps to assess environmental impacts on endangered species and can proceed with its plans for improving, U.S. District Judge Howard D. McKibben ruled on Aug. 13.

McKibben granted summary judgment to the Bureau of Land Management for its plans for about 600,000 acres south of Ely in the Cave Valley and Lake Valley Watershed.

The BLM took an "adequate hard look at the environmental consequences" of repairing aging infrastructure, the effects of which will be concentrated in the immediate areas repaired.

"The action of the BLM in adopting the Cave Valley and Lake Valley Watershed Restoration Plan Environmental Assessment was not arbitrary and capricious or an abuse of discretion," McKibben wrote.

The BLM says the work will "improve habitat for all wildlife, especially sage grouse and big-game species" and "achieve better distribution of livestock and wildlife, and improve overall rangeland health ."

Its goals include reducing fire risk by removing dead timber and other vegetation, and improving habitat for greater sage grouse and other wildlife by removing trees and noxious weeds that encroach on sagebrush habitat, McKibben said.

The Western Watersheds Project sued, saying the BLM "intends to mow, chop, burn and poison sagebrush within what the Nevada Department of Wildlife considers 'essential and irreplaceable' greater sage grouse habitat. In addition, the BLM's decisions permit the construction or reconstruction of over 400 miles of fences and new wells, reservoirs, pipelines and livestock watering facilities within key sage-grouse habitat."

Western Watersheds Project's lawsuit, filed in Idaho and transferred to Nevada in 2013, accused the BLM of violating the National Environmental Policy Act, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act and the Administration Procedures Act.

It claimed the plan would harm sage grouse, elk, mule deer, pronghorn antelope, desert bighorn sheep and 31 sensitive species by fragmenting and destroying habitat, spreading weeds, and increasing mortality through collisions with new fences.

The BLM said it's trying to improve the "poor conditions" in the area, saying in a 2008 report that the standards for soils, uplands, riparian areas and wildlife habitat were not being met.

McKibben said the BLM identified primary and general sage grouse habitat that has the highest conservation value for sustaining a sizeable population, and general habitat areas that support sage grouse, and took them into account when developing its plan.

McKibben granted the BLM's motion for summary judgment and denied Western Watersheds' motion.

Officials for Western Watersheds and the BLM could not be reached for comment late Monday.

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