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Montana Wildlife Federation v. Bernhardt

ELR Citation: 50 ELR 20130
Nos. CV-18-69-GF-BMM, (D. Mont., 05/22/2020) (Morris, J.)

A district court vacated BLM's 2018 instruction memorandum (IM) and oil and gas lease sales in Montana and Wyoming issued in reliance on the IM for failing to maintain federal protections for the greater sage-grouse. Environmental groups challenged the IM and lease sales, arguing that they violated FLPMA. BLM argued the IM did not constitute final agency action because it merely set forth procedural guidelines. The court found the IM did qualify as final agency action because it constituted the consummation of BLM's decision on how to apply the objective in its 2015 land management plans of prioritizing future oil and gas leasing and development outside of sage-grouse habitat. It further found that the IM violated FLPMA by reinterpreting the prioritization requirement to only apply to situations when BLM faced a backlog of potential leasing sites to review and by failing to actively encourage the prioritization of oil and gas leasing in non-sage-grouse habitat as the 2015 plans required. Because all the challenged lease sales either explicitly or in effect followed the IM, the court concluded they also violated FLPMA. It therefore vacated the 2018 IM and the lease sales in their entirety except for parcels that did not contain sage-grouse habitat.