BOISE – Western Watersheds Project recently filed suit in federal court against the Interior Department, challenging the Department’s withholding of public records concerning a new livestock grazing program.

The suit claims that Interior and the Bureau of Land Management unlawfully withheld information on BLM’s new “outcome-based” grazing initiative from the public and requests that a federal judge order the department to disclose the requested records.

“This is the latest example of the administration favoring industrial agriculture over conservation, biodiversity and wildlife,” said Scott Lake, Idaho Director of Western Watersheds. “Outcome-based grazing appears to be a ploy to put private ranchers in charge of grazing on public lands and sidestep standards that might otherwise protect our lands and wildlife.”

The “outcome-based” grazing initiative was first announced in September 2017 by former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. The program promised increased flexibility for commercial livestock operations that graze on public lands, and de-emphasized prescriptions designed to protect habitat for species such as endangered salmon and greater sage grouse. The program has yet to undergo any kind of public comment or environmental review process. Western Watersheds Project requested information on the program in April 2018 but has not received a response from the government, according to a press release by the conservation group.

In a 2018 press release, BLM touted outcome-based grazing as a good way to promote shared conservation stewardship of public lands while supporting uses such as livestock grazing. The BLM has been implementing outcome-based grazing demonstration projects throughout the country, intended to provide data to guide future authorizations.

“The flexibility allowed under the outcome-based grazing authorizations ... will demonstrate management practices that BLM and livestock operators can use to respond to changing, on-the-ground conditions such as wildfires, high moisture years or drought,” the BLM press release reads. “This will better ensure healthy rangelands, high-quality wildlife habitat and economically sustainable ranching operations.”

Outcome-based grazing has appeared in BLM planning documents around the country throughout the past two years, including the San Pedro Resource Management Plan in Arizona and livestock grazing permit renewals in Idaho. Regarding the Idaho renewals, the outcome-based approach increased grazing by over 200%, while reducing protections for sage-grouse and native fish, according to Western Watersheds.