Idaho is in the early stages of a lawsuit with federal agencies over the status of one potentially endangered species, and more could be coming, according to officials with the state Office of Species Conservation (OSC).
Gov. Butch Otter sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in November over its decision to list the slickspot peppergrass as a threatened species. The slickspot peppergrass, a small, white-flowered plant with habitat only in southwest Idaho, was first considered for listing in 2002. It was rejected twice before being listed last year.
After the two rejections, the environmental group Western Watersheds Project (WWP) sued to overturn the decisions and include the plant on the federal protective list. When it was listed as threatened in October, a WWP news release said the decision was overdue. “Finally, this was a long time coming,” said Jon Marvel, WWP’s executive director.
OCS director Nate Fisher told lawmakers Monday that the slickspot peppergrass wasn’t listed because of conservation work done by the state and landowners. “When the federal government doesn’t stick to its promises… we find ourselves at a very frustrating juncture, and the decisions with how we must proceed are very difficult,” Fisher said. “In some cases, legal action is very necessary.”
“If we don’t draw the line and try to get this mischief stopped, it will be the first of many,” Otter said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that the sage grouse will be next.”
The sage grouse, a chicken-sized bird with a large pointed tail, could be following the same path as the slickspot peppergrass, according to Fisher. It’s been up for listing since 2005, and rejected once by Fish and Wildlife. WWP has sued that decision. Fisher said a result could come next month, and that if it ends up listed, Otter may go back to court.
The state is also awaiting the trial in a federal court case involving delisting wolves , and could go into litigation over a federal plan to extend the habitat of the bull trout to 9,671 miles of streams, and 197,915 acres of lakes and reservoirs in Idaho. Fisher told lawmakers that if that plan goes through, it could affect property owners. “What it may portend is an increase in restrictions in land use activities in those areas,” he said. “Some of these miles and acres of streams can be taken off… It’s overreaching, as far as we’re concerned.”