Victorious! On appeal, the Ninth Circuit threw out BLM’s unlawful travel plan and critical wildlife habitat on Steens Mountain in southeastern Oregon has been protected from motorized disruption.
Steens Mountain is one of the last remaining strongholds for the Greater sage-grouse, an iconic bird whose survival is threatened by fragmentation and loss of its sagebrush habitat and much of the mountain is protected by law for its wilderness value. ONDA wanted to see the Bureau of Land Management revise its travel plan for this wilderness area and give up the idea of designating “roads” that have not been used for decades and have all but disappeared on the landscape.
What this case is about
This case (ONDA v. Jeff Rose) is about the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) plan to designate as open to motorized use and subject to mechanical maintenance 521 miles of routes within a unique, congressionally-protected area on Steens Mountain in southeastern Oregon’s fragile high desert.
Timeline and background
2009: ONDA filed a lawsuit alleging that BLM’s travel plan is unlawful because it establishes roads where none exist on the ground and where they are barred by substantive provisions of law. BLM had, in effect, approved a new and extensive motorized road network that threatened to carve up roadless areas with irreplaceable wildlife and wilderness values within this exceptional landscape whose “long-term ecological integrity” BLM must protect. ONDA also alleged that BLM failed to follow procedures required by law to ensure meaningful public participation and informed decision making.
After multiple administrative appeals and one intermediate remand by the District Court to the Department of the Interior’s Board of Land Appeals, the suit came to encompass multiple agency decisions that approve two interconnected plans: the Steens Mountain Travel Management Plan (TMP) and the Steens Mountain Comprehensive Recreation Plan (CRP). Together, the TMP and CRP comprise BLM’s travel plan for the Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Area.
2015: A federal judge ordered the BLM not to allow motorists to drive on about 36 miles of primitive routes on Steens Mountain. Because most of the routes do not exist on the ground, the court agreed with ONDA that motorists searching for them would create new paths through the sagebrush, introducing weeds and carving up roadless areas.
The 2015 ruling ensured that some of the most vulnerable places on the mountain remain off-limits to vehicles, at least until the court made its final ruling on ONDA’s claims. The court order built upon the injunction ONDA won in 2012 that prevented upgrades on another 90 miles of primitive routes.
2018: A federal appeals court restored a long-standing driving and maintenance injunction while the case is on appeal.
2019: The court vacated the Steens Travel Management Plan and Comprehensive Recreation Plan and sent those plans back to BLM to re-do in their entirety.
Legal Documents and Links
- Opinion – April 2019 – 18-35258
- Oral Argument before the 9th Circuit
- Motion for Summary Judgment – April 2017 – 09-369.pdf
- Opinion and Order – June 2015 – granting modified injunction – 09-369 Docket 238
- Opinion and Order – April 2011 – 09-369