BLM failing to manage grazing land in Colorado, lawsuit says

Two environmental groups sued the Bureau of Land Management on Wednesday over what they say is a failure to protect public lands and wildlife from overgrazing in 13 Western states.

In Colorado, managers of BLM field offices are not performing required environmental assessments on land where domestic sheep graze alongside bighorn sheep, and their mismanagement of grazing on rangelands is threatening sage grouse habitat, the lawsuit. filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, alleges.

The bureau also is failing to prevent damage to land within national monuments and national conservation areas such as Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in southwestern Colorado, the environmental groups said.

The allegations of mismanagement follow Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility’s filing of a whistleblower complaint against the BLM last month after a rangeland manager in the San Luis Valley said her bosses were failing to enforce illegal grazing on land near the Rio Grande and were jeopardizing the ecosystem.

The new lawsuit was filed by attorneys at Advocates for the West on behalf of the Western Watershed Project and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. The groups hope a federal judge will order the bureau to conduct the proper environmental analyses on public lands used for livestock grazing.

Steve Hall, a BLM spokesman, said the agency would not comment on the lawsuit.

The BLM oversees 35,000 permits that allow domesticated livestock to graze on 155 million acres of public land in 13 states.

Under the National Environmental Policy Act, the bureau is supposed to conduct environmental assessments of grazing land and has the authority to deny permits if the land is getting worn out from overgrazing. But the lawsuit accuses federal officials of renewing grazing permits without the necessary reviews even when the land is environmentally significant because it hosts endangered wildlife or is designated as a conservation area.

“Across much of the West, we see the BLM as the Bureau of Land Mismanagement,” Chandra Rosenthal, director of the Rocky Mountain Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, said in a news release about the lawsuit.

Colorado’s field offices generally have completed more environmental assessments than other states, but some have selectively avoided the assessments for grazing permits that overlap with big horn sheep in the Colorado River Valley, Gunnison, San Luis Valley and Uncompahgre areas, the lawsuit states.

Colorado BLM also manages the Gunnison Gorge and Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Areas, which are critical habitat for Gunnison sage-grouse and bighorn sheep, and it manages Canyon of the Ancients National Monument, which has significant cultural resources.

But the agency has completed few assessments for grazing permits in those areas even though sage grouse and bighorn sheep are affected, the lawsuit stated.

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