The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed on Sept. 2 a district court’s decision that ranchers grazing in southwestern Idaho were unable to transfer their grazing preference for two grazing allotments. The Trout Springs and Hanley FFR grazing allotments cover 30,000 acres of BLM land in Owyhee County.
Ranchers Michael and Linda Hanley and the Hanley Ranch Partnership had their grazing permit renewal denied by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in 2009 after not meeting the state’s rangeland grazing standards. The Hanleys then tried to transfer the grazing preference to family members, but the BLM also denied the request, stating the ranch no longer possessed grazing preference for the Trout Springs and Hanley FFR grazing allotments.
The family members, daughter and son-in-law Martha and John Corrigan, appealed the decision, but it was upheld by the Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA). The Hanleys and Corrigans then filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho against the BLM, former Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt and Western Watersheds Project (WWP), who intervened in the original case.
The families argued BLM never canceled their grazing preference through any formal process, and they should be able to retain a grazing preference even after their grazing permit expired. U.S. District Court Judge Lynn Winmill ruled in May that “a permittee has a preference only so long as he complies with the terms of his permit.” The plaintiffs then appealed the case to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
On Sept. 2, the 9th Circuit Court ruled in favor of the district court’s judgement. “Because the IBLA correctly interpreted and applied the statutory authorities, and therefore did not act ‘contrary to law,’ it follows that the decision is not arbitrary and capricious in violation of the [Administrative Procedure Act],” wrote Judge Paul L. Friedman.
WWP celebrated the ruling. “This decision is a victory for the public lands,” said Talasi Brooks, WWP staff attorney. “The 9th Circuit’s ruling today should remind ranchers that grazing on the public lands is a privilege, not a right, and that privilege can—and should—be lost if it is abused.” — Anna Miller, WLJ managing editor