Western Watersheds Project v. Abbey

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Environmental Law
  • Date Filed: 06-07-2013
  • Case #: 11-35705
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Gould for the Court; Circuit Judges Fisher and Paez
  • Full Text Opinion

To comply with the National Environmental Policy Act, the Bureau of Land Management must not only take a “hard look” at environmental impacts from the programmatic stage of its planning and management, but it must also consider and assess a reasonable range of alternatives, including some that provide more protection for public lands, at the site-specific stage.

Western Watersheds Project challenged the Bureau of Land Management’s (“BLM”) management of livestock grazing within the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument, located in north-central Montana, arguing that BLM had violated the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976, 42 USC §§ 1701-1787; Proclamation No. 7398, 3 CFR § 7398; and the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (“NEPA”), 42 USC § § 4321-4347. Western Watersheds Project also argued that BLM had improperly excluded programmatic changes to its grazing management policies. However, the district court disagreed and granted summary judgment in favor of BLM, finding that BLM had reasonably interpreted the Proclamation and had taken a “hard look” in formulating the Breaks Monument Resource Management Plan (“Resource Plan”), the Breaks Environmental Impact Statement (“EIS”), and the site-specific Environmental Assessment for the Woodhawk Allotment (“EA”). On appeal, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s holding that BLM had reasonably interpreted the Proclamation, in light of the plain language, structure, and its history, to exclude changes in grazing practices. The panel also agreed that, at the programmatic level of NEPA review, BLM had taken a hard and careful look at grazing impacts. In addition, the panel held that BLM had not violated NEPA by excluding from the EIS a detailed analysis of no- or reduced-grazing alternatives. However, the panel rejected the district court’s holding that the EA had complied with NEPA because the BLM had neglected to evaluate feasible alternatives. Subsequently, because BLM failed to take a careful and hard look at the site-specific level of planning and management of the Monument, it was unable to fully evaluate the impacts of the proposed action. AFFIRMED in part; REVERSED in part; REMANDED.

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