The practice has long been a contested practice in the Jarbidge Resource Area, with opponents contending that livestock damage crucial habitat for imperiled sage grouse and trample the endangered plant slickspot peppergrass. Grazing permits in the region have been the subject of lawsuits and in March, Winmill suspended grazing on the 17 allotments.

But on Friday, the judge said he'd been swayed by the testimony of experts on both sides who said the decline in sage grouse populations is largely the result of wildfires. A huge blaze in 2007 burned more than 400,000 acres in the Jarbidge Resource Area, destroying 70 percent of the area's sage grouse habitat, Winmill noted.

The judge said he now believed that careful grazing could help protect the land by reducing the number of plants that could fuel wildfires, stopping or at least slowing down the flames.

``This is a significant win for the ranching community,'' Tom Basabe, president of Simplot Land and Livestock Group, said in a statement. Ranching groups involved in the case include his organization, Brackett Ranches Limited Partnership and Camas Creek Cattle Association.

Winmill also said a complete lifting of the ban on grazing wasn't warranted, given the threat that livestock pose to sage grouse and slickspot peppergrass. He listed several limitations and requirements for the allotments where grazing will resume.


The BLM must prepare an interim grazing management plan for each grazing-permit holder in an effort to help the sensitive species and to ensure that wildlife goals and watershed needs will be satisfied.

The federal agency also has full authority to restrict or completely ban grazing on the land, consistent with law, the judge said. The agency must ban grazing completely for certain pastures during sage grouse mating and nesting season, and during the winter when plant growth has ceased.

Laird Lucas, the attorney representing the Western Watersheds Project, which opposes grazing on the public land, said Winmill's ruling underscored that the BLM must maintain a strong focus on protecting sage grouse.

``The judge, I think, made clear that he expects BLM to closely watch and manage the grazing to make sure that sage grouse habitat is protected,'' Lucas said. ``That's a positive step in an ongoing process of trying to protect sage grouse. We think the best way to do that is to have grazing eliminated, but the judge wasn't willing to go that far.''