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South Fork Band v. Department of the Interior

Citation: 40 ELR 20242
No. No. 3:08-cv-00616, (D. Nev., 08/25/2010)

A district court largely denied a tribe's motions for summary judgment on claims that the BLM violated NEPA and FLPMA in approving a gold mining and processing operation on and around Mt. Tenabo in Lander County, Nevada. The Ninth Circuit already issued a preliminary injunction requiring the BLM to prepare an EIS for the project. To the extent that the Ninth Circuit’s decision cannot be considered a final determination of plaintiffs' NEPA claims for declaratory relief relating to mine dewatering and offsite ore transportation and processing, summary judgment on these claims in the tribe's favor is appropriate. But the court denied summary judgment on the remaining NEPA claims. The tribe's motion for summary judgment on its FLPMA claims was denied as well. While pine nut gathering appears to be a tribal tradition, it failed to explain how pine nut gathering in the pediment area is important to the tribe's religious practice. Absent evidence in the record suggesting that the pediment area is a sacred site, the BLM did not act arbitrarily or capriciously in failing to provide the tribe access to the area. As to the tribe's FLPMA-based mine dewatering claim, because it is yet to be seen whether the dewatering will cause unnecessary and undue degradation, summary judgment is inappropriate on this claim as well.

[A prior decision in this litigation can be found at 39 ELR 20276.]