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Judge overturns plans for Craters of the Moon land

Published: Monday, Oct. 3 2011 9:40 p.m. MDT

TWIN FALLS, Idaho — A judge overturned a federal resource management plan for the Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve in Idaho, in a ruling.

The decision from Chief U. S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill could potentially force the Bureau of Land Management to redo the planning process for lands within the Idaho monument, as well as the Pinedale Field Office in western Wyoming, the Times-News reports.

The ruling marks a win for the Western Watersheds Project. That group sued the BLM claiming 16 management plans in six different states do not sufficiently take into account the impacts that grazing, oil and gas drilling, and residential construction have on imperiled sage grouse.

"This decision is important because it shows that when our government breaks the law, they will be held accountable," said project director Jon Marvel.

As of Friday, BLM officials said they were still reviewing Winmill's decision.

"Right now we're talking to our solicitors at low and high levels to see what this is saying," said Holly Hampton, the BLM's monument manager at the Craters of the Moon monument in Idaho. "We are nowhere close to deciding if we are going to appeal this decision."

It could take the federal agency two to five years to rewrite the resource management plans and once the process gets started, Marvel said, his group would ask a judge to allow temporary mandates to bolter sage grouse protections.

Sage grouse have suffered severe habitat loss over the last century.

A chicken-sized bird known for its elaborate mating display, it's found in Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, South Dakota, North Dakota Nevada, Utah, Washington, Oregon, eastern California, Nevada, Utah, western Colorado.

While conservationists lauded the judge ruling earlier this week, it could mean stricter grazing restrictions for ranchers, who have long raised concerns in southern Idaho that these rights on are the decline. The BLM has currently allotted 280,000 acres at the Idaho monument for grazing.

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