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Industry Groups Allowed to Defend BLM’s Invalidated Grazing Regulations

September 14, 2010

Earlier this month, on September 1, 2010, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an Idaho Federal District Court ruling that invalidated grazing regulations issued by the Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) in 2006.  While the ruling is surely a disappointment for the livestock industry, it is a unique illustration of the important roles private parties and organizations can have in cases brought against the federal government when they intervene as defendants.

The regulations at issue would have, among other things, reduced public involvement in the BLM’s administration of grazing permits and forced the BLM to document the causes of decline in rangeland health before reducing grazing levels.  The Ninth Circuit upheld the District Court’s invalidation of the rules because, it found, the BLM failed to undertake adequate environmental assessments of how the rule changes would affect endangered species and other aspects of the environment.  After initially appealing the District Court, the BLM abandoned its defense of the regulations before the case was submitted to the Ninth Circuit, but the American Farm Bureau Federation and Public Lands Council, which intervened in the case, continued with the appeal.

Plaintiffs in the case, led by the Western Watersheds Project, opposed the Farm Bureau and Public Lands Council’s standing to continue the defense of the regulations.  The BLM sided with plaintiffs, filing a “friend of the court” brief opposing the Farm Bureau and Public Lands Council’s standing as well.  Yet, despite even the BLM’s opposition, the Ninth Circuit disagreed.  The Court ruled that the organizations had standing to appeal the District Court decision, even without the BLM’s involvement, because “the district court’s judgment causes their members a concrete and particularized injury” that would be remedied if the Ninth Circuit upheld the regulations.  While the Ninth Circuit did not end up siding with the intervenors on the merits of the case, recognition of their right to continue the appeal underscores the importance of intervention for parties, organizations and industries affected by government rules, regulations, and decisions that are challenged by other private interest groups.

A full copy of the Ninth Circuit’s decision can be viewed here.

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