Conservation Organizations Win Right to Grazing Permittee Information

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Conservation Organizations Win Right to Grazing Permittee Information

From WildEarth Guardians
October 2010

“In its decision, the Court acknowledged the undisputed truth that there is a substantial public interest in BLM’s grazing program”

Conservationists have won a lawsuit against the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) today over its refusal to disclose the names and addresses of certain grazing permittees on BLM land. Hon. Candy Dale, Chief Magistrate Judge in the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho, ruled in favor of Western Watersheds Project and WildEarth Guardians, finding that “the public interest in monitoring the BLM’s rangeland program outweighs the minimal privacy interests held by [grazing] permittees.”

“In its decision, the Court acknowledged the undisputed truth that there is a substantial public interest in BLM’s grazing program,” said Todd Tucci, Senior Attorney with Advocates for the West, a public interest environmental law firm in Boise, Idaho. “This interest in underscored by the fact that BLM allows over two million livestock to graze the public lands of the American west, many times at inappropriate levels, during inappropriate times of the year, and to the financial detriment of the American taxpayers,” said Tucci.

Conservation organizations submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to BLM in 2007 requesting information concerning the agency’s grazing program, including the names and addresses of corporations, partnerships and individuals permitted to graze BLM land. As the court’s opinion notes, the names and addresses are key to understanding other information about BLM’s grazing program. The BLM, citing privacy issues, refused to disclose the names and addresses of certain permittees. The Idaho court found that privacy concerns were “minimal” and outweighed by a substantial public interest in the BLM grazing program:

“…the Court finds that there is a substantial public interest in understanding the scope of the grazing and rangeland program, particularly in light of the environmental impacts associated with grazing and the amount of tax dollars spent on the grazing program itself. Understanding the scope includes knowing how many individuals or entities actually graze cattle on public lands, as well as the size and scope of their operations. Because the only way to determine this information is from release and cross referencing of the requested information, the Court finds that a substantial public interest exists.”

“The court’s decision today will help the public understand who is enrolled in the gargantuan, environmentally destructive and heavily subsidized federal grazing program,” said Mark Salvo, Director of the Sagebrush Sea Campaign for WildEarth Guardians.

In contrast to the BLM, the U.S. Forest Service does not withhold information related to Forest Service grazing permittees from the public.

President Obama promised all Americans an open and transparent administration.” said Jon Marvel, Executive Director of Western Watersheds Project, “Now the Obama BLM will be required to live up to that commitment”

Advocates for the West is a non-profit public interest environmental law firm based in Boise, Idaho, working to protect and restore public lands, water, and wildlife in the American west.

WildEarth Guardians is a regional conservation organization environmental advocacy organization whose mission is to protect and restore the wildlife, wild rivers, and wild places of the American West.

Western Watersheds Project is a west-regional conservation group whose mission is to protect and restore western watersheds and wildlife through education, public policy initiatives and litigation.