LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — A lawsuit accuses the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) of failing to perform required grazing permit reviews across the West, with the worst lapses occurring in Nevada.
About 15 million acres in Nevada that did undergo a review failed to meet federal standards due to damage caused by livestock, the lawsuit says. That’s about 63% of lands that underwent a review.
The lawsuit filed Thursday by the Western Watersheds Project (WWP) and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) claims that only 9% of the permits issued in Nevada have been reviewed. PEER looked at 25 years of data (1997-2022). A map shows the severity of the problem:
The groups allege that the BLM “sidestepped” federal rules under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), allowing grazing to continue without review “sometimes for more than a decade.”
8 News Now has reached out to the BLM’s Southern Nevada office for comment.
The lawsuit states, “Livestock grazing can adversely affect a variety of resources, including soils,
plants, water quality, and water quantity, due to cattle and sheep eroding or compacting soils,
eating vegetation, and trampling streambanks and wetlands. These impacts can degrade habitat
for thousands of fish, wildlife, and plant species found on western public lands. Livestock can
also damage cultural sites by trampling them, rubbing against them, or disturbing or desecrating
the surrounding soil and vegetation. All of these impacts must be assessed in a NEPA analysis.”
But reviews are not happening enough in Nevada and other states, the lawsuit claims.
PEER analyzed data from 1997 to 2019 on land health evaluations for BLM’s 21,000 grazing allotments. It found 109 million acres were being grazed, but almost 41 million acres had not been evaluated for NEPA compliance — about 27%.
That figure was much higher for Nevada: 43%, the highest level of all western states.
Wild horse advocates have criticized the BLM for rounding up the animals, claiming it’s livestock — not wild horses — that’s damaging the ranges. Horses aren’t even mentioned in the lawsuit, but other animals are listed including sage grouse, bighorn sheep and the Lahontan cutthroat trout.
Grazing lands that overlapped habitats for these animals were actually reviewed less frequently than other BLM allotments, according to WWP analysis. The same was true for grazing lands that overlapped national monuments or national conservation areas.
The lawsuit calls for BLM to reestablish rules to determine the priority and timing of environmental analyses for livestock grazing allotments, permits, and/or leases. The BLM must begin review, with particular attention to reviews for some leases that have been renewed without NEPA analysis.
Among those are four Nevada areas where “federal defendants have unlawfully withheld or unreasonably delayed performing their duty to conduct NEPA analysis:” Tuscarora Field Office, Wells Field Office, Humboldt River Field Office and Basin and Range National Monument/Irish Mountain.
The BLM owns 67% of the land in Nevada. Combined with land controlled by other federal agencies, 80.1% of Nevada is under federal control.