BLM wins first round in grazing permit fight

A judge recently rejected an environmental group's request that grazing permits for more than 370,000 acres of BLM land in Moffat and Routt counties be denied.

On Jan. 29 the Western Watersheds Project, previously called the Idaho Watersheds Project, filed an appeal and petition for stay against 30 allotments held by the Raftopoulos family of Craig. Their land is in western Moffat County in the Dinosaur/Browns Park area.

The Interior Board of Land Appeals denied the petition for stay but the appeal is still pending.

David Blackstun, the supervisory natural resources specialist with the Bureau of Land Management, said the judge did not find sufficient justification for granting the stay.

"One of the elements of the petition for stay was it said the permit would create harm to natural resources," Blackstun said. "The judge said the new permit is better than the old permit in regard to management of natural resources."

Blackstun said the judge believed it didn't make sense to go back to the old permit "when the new permit is better."

"We're pleased the judge granted the permits," Blackstun said. "The decision issued in October was a positive step for resource management and we're happy the stay was denied."

The court's decision means the terms and conditions outlined in the BLM's original permits will be implemented.

The terms in the permit renewal include adjustments to season of use for the land, projects to improve livestock distribution in the area and a reduction of allocated land.

The Interior Board of Land Appeals has forwarded the appeal filed by the Western Watersheds Project to an administrative law judge.

"A hearing has yet to be scheduled," Blackstun said. "It can take anywhere from months to years. It's whenever the judge wants."

Jon Marvel, executive director of the Western Watersheds Project, said the group would now file a suit against the BLM in federal district court in Denver.

"We will request that the use of these public lands for livestock will stop this year," Marvel said. "I think we have a good case if we go ahead. By no means is this over at this time."

Marvel said the group has a goal in Northwest Colorado.

"One of the things we're interested in as a group is establishing an understanding that public land ranching is on the way out," he said. "Without public scrutiny that change will be slower in Craig. We want to accelerate that change. The BLM has never before been challenged in this way."

The mission of Western Watersheds Project is to eliminate grazing on public land.

"Our long-term goal is to phase out incompatible uses of public land," said Keith Raether, director of public information with the Western Watersheds Project. "We feel grazing has time and again proven to be an incompatible use of public land."

The action against the BLM and the Raftopoulos family is the first legal action taken by the Western Watersheds Project in Colorado.

The Watersheds Project has taken similar action in Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona.

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