Law Street Media

Conservation Groups Sue The Department of the Interior to Save Native Utah Habitats

The sun beautifully illuminating the green treetops of tall beech trees in a forest clearing, panorama shot

On Thursday, the Defenders of Wildlife and Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance filed a complaint in the District of Columbia against the Department of the Interior and Bureau of Land Management for their adoption of the “Pinyon-Juniper Categorical Exclusion Rule (PJ CX Rule)” that allegedly would allow for the destruction of pinyon-juniper tree habitats without analysis mandated by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). 

The Department of the Interior’s PJ CX Rule, per the plaintiffs, amends their NEPA protocols by adopting “categorical exclusion.” If a project falls under this category, no Environmental Impact Statement mandated by NEPA will be required in order to carry the projects out. The projects, the plaintiffs say, could each “destroy up to 10,000 acres of  each of pinyon pine and juniper forests across habitat for the greater sage-grouse and mule deer.”

By adopting this rule, the plaintiffs claimed that the defendants are acting in an arbitrary and capricious manner because their rule is “riddled with errors and oversights, and is inconsistent with the best available scientific information.” This, plaintiffs say, is yet another step taken by the Bureau to “improve” these habitats that the plaintiffs argued were “highly questionable” as the government has allegedly removed native trees and vegetation and introduced invasive species that have upended the balance of the ecosystem.

The Bureau of Land Management allegedly “disturb[ed] soils through project-associated vehicle compaction and crushing” and “undermin[ed] their ecosystem function by removing biological crusts critical to soil stability and formation and facilitating soil loss and exotic weed invasion.” The plaintiffs claimed that the PJ CX Rule was verified based “exclusively on private telephone conversations with its own staff, and the Draft Verification Report is devoid of monitoring data on the efficacy of the past projects.” In order to stop the rule from going into effect, the plaintiffs are suing for violations of the National Environmental Policy Act and Administrative Procedure Act.

The plaintiffs are seeking a declaration that the defendants violated NEPA, reversal and vacating of the PJ CX Rule, injunctive relief, attorney’s fees and costs, and other relief.

The plaintiffs are represented by Advocates for the West.

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