Trump’s BLM Withdraws Cattle Grazing Plan in Face of Environmental Lawsuits

Trump’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) raised the white flag of surrender and pulled their grazing decision for the Elkhorn Wildlife Management area on December 10, 2020 after the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Native Ecosystem Council threatened to sue.

In March of 2018 the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Native Ecosystems Council sued to stop the BLM’s plan to burn sagebrush-juniper habitat in the Iron Mask area in the Elkhorn Mountains near Canyon Ferry Reservoir, southwest of Townsend, Montana.  In 2019, a federal court judge ordered the project stopped because the agency failed to analyze the cumulative impacts of the project on wildlife.

The BLM did not comply with the Court’s 2019 Order and issued a “Supplemental Environmental Assessment” that did not analyze cumulative impacts to wildlife. The two conservation groups, therefore, filed suit against the agency again on February 28, 2020 asking the Court to stop the BLM from illegally burning sagebrush and juniper. In July 2020, United States Magistrate Judge Timothy Cavan found in favor pur favor.

During the 2020 litigation however, the BLM signed a 2nd Decision authorizing cattle grazing for the Iron Mask area. This Decision was based on the illegal Supplemental Environmental Assessment. Following the threat to file a third lawsuit against the BLM for illegally authorizing projects in Iron Mask, the BLM voluntarily withdrew the grazing decision.

The 300,000 acre Elkhorn Mountains are highly prized for their wildlife habitat and the Elkhorns are officially-designated to be managed to prioritize benefits to wildlife above all other uses.

The Iron Mask Project authorized grazing on over 5000 acres to benefit cattle not wildlife. The judge, however, ruled that the BLM’s cumulative impact analysis did not analyze the negative effects of grazing on wildlife, which are overwhelming. The BLM was also ordered to analyze the cumulative impacts of cattle grazing which they did not do and therefore we told them we would sue them and win if they did not withdraw their grazing decision because livestock grazing has been shown to negatively impact big game species, like elk, by displacing herds and decreasing available forage.

The Iron Mask Project is simply the latest attempt by the BLM to manage the land for cattle despite the fact that doing so will harm wildlife in the Elkhorn Mountains. That’s important because the Elkhorns are one of the most sought after hunting districts in the entire nation.  Each year more than 7,000 hunters put in for the 110 coveted Elkhorn elk tags, making the odds of drawing a permit to hunt their famous trophy bull elk extremely

To make it worse, the Iron Mask planning area was recently acquired by the BLM with federal money that is supposed to be used to purchase habitat for wildlife.  Now, under President Trump’s corrupt leadership, the federal government manages the Elkhorns to benefit a few cattle ranchers while damaging big game habitat.

The barbed wire fences they put up for the cows also need to be removed. The claim that these fences are wildlife friendly is a huge coverup of all the damage they cause to wildlife. There is no just thing as a wildlife-friendly barbed wire fence.

The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks found that the so-called wildlife-friendly barbed wire fences still harm wildlife.  A wide variety of birds are killed by a direct strike or entanglement of their feathers.  Elk calves get tangled up in fences they couldn’t jump over and starve to death.  On one field trip in Montana, we found a flying squirrel crucified on a barbed wire fence.  It was flying when it hit the fence and one barb went through each of its front arms and it then starved to death, hanging from the barbed wire.

If the BLM refuses to take down the fences they put up, we will have no choice but to exercise our first amendment rights and take them to court. Please consider helping us take down these illegal, wildlife killing, fences.

Mike Garrity is the executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.