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Politics & Government

Idaho Sues Over Sage Grouse Land Management Plans

Emilie Ritter Saunders
StateImpact Idaho

Just three days after federal officials decided not to list the greater sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act, Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter's office and the Idaho Legislature has announced the state filed a lawsuit. Click here to read the suit.

In a press release, Otter's office says the suit will challenge "the federal government’s failure to stick to a transparent, collaborative process in setting new land-use restrictions on greater sage-grouse habitat in Idaho and other states in the West."

“We didn’t want an ESA listing, but in many ways these administrative rules are worse. This complaint is an unfortunate but necessary step to protect the rights of Idaho citizens to participate in public land decisions that will impact their communities, their economy and their lives,” Governor Otter said. “Our people deserve to be involved in development of critical land-use plans that will responsibly address the most serious threats to Idaho’s sage-grouse population – wildfires and such invasive species as cheat grass that are fueling them.” - press release on the lawsuit from Gov. Otter's Office

Idaho appears to be the first state to challenge the new land management plans. The state alleges the Department of Interior, which oversees the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, ended collaborative efforts with Idaho to focus on a national plan that includes more restriction on land use in sage grouse habitat.

Lieutenant Governor Brad Little says the lawsuit is a good use of taxpayer money. He says attacks from hardline environmental groups will likely challenge the listing decision as well, but from the other end of the political spectrum.

"Someone in the environmental community is going to litigate," says Little. "If we litigate on the other side of them, at least we can be guaranteed a spot at the table."

Boise State University political scientist John Freemuth says the state’s ranching industry is at the center of this. Freemuth says in the years leading up to the Endangered Species Act decision, the state has focused on controlling invasive weeds that fuel increasingly uncontrollable wildfires.  

“The two biggest threats identified to sage grouse were said to be invasives and fire," says Freemuth. "Grazing has always been the elephant in the room.”

According to the Associated Press, two Nevada counties and some mining companies are suing federal officials as well.

Find reporter Frankie Barnhill on Twitter @FABarnhill

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