TWIN FALLS, Idaho — A federal court has upheld most of a lower court's ruling that blocked looser grazing restrictions on millions of acres of public land across the nation.
The Bureau of Land Management violated two federal laws by failing to consider the environmental ramifications of the regulation changes, according to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which agreed with a previous ruling by a U.S. District Court judge.
In 2007, U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill in Idaho ruled the BLM's rule revisions limited the amount of public comment the BLM had to consider and diluted the BLM's authority to sanction ranchers for grazing violations.
Winmill said the agency had given in to pressure from the livestock industry.
Environmental groups sued to stop the rule revisions, contending they violated the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act.
The appeals court found the BLM violated the first two acts, but sent the portion of the case dealing with the Federal Land Policy and Management Act back to the district court, citing an overlooked 1984 case that served as a precedent.
But that isn't expected to change BLM regulations.
"We figure the claim will be dismissed at this point by the district court," Jon Marvel, executive director of Western Watersheds Project, one of the groups that filed the initial lawsuit, told The Times-News. "The case has been decided on other grounds."
After Winmill's 2007 ruling, the BLM appealed and was joined by the Public Lands Council, a group representing ranchers, and the American Farm Bureau Federation.
After President Barack Obama was elected in November 2009, the BLM retracted its appeal. But the Public Lands Council and American Farm Bureau Federation continued the appeal.
Danielle Quist, senior council for public policy at the American Farm Bureau Federation, said the group hasn't decided its next move.