Grouse decision to be re-visitedWritten by Jennifer Womack
The timeline on which the work will be carried out is the subject of a Feb. 29 hearing to be held in Judge Winmill’s Idaho courtroom. Originally agreeing to a timeline of May 2009, attorney Bill Myers says the FWS is now looking to complete the process by the end of this year. Myers represents four interveners in the case – the State of Wyoming, the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, the Petroleum Association of Wyoming and the State of Colorado. In all, there are 14 parties.
“This case basically started back in January 2005 when the FWS decided not to list the sage grouse as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act,” said Myers to a group of ranchers attending the recent National Cattlemen’s Beef Association convention in Reno, Nev. It’s a decision Idaho-based Western Watersheds Project (WWP), an anti-federal lands grazing group that had filed the listing petition, did not support. Myers said their complaint primarily took aim at what they said was FWS’s failure to use the best available science.
In reviewing the petition the agency employed the services of outside biologists and used those findings in unison with the recommendations of their own personnel. “They thought it was wrong for FWS to rely on internal scientists and not go with the outside panel’s view,” said Myers of the plaintiff. WWP also complained of allegations that a high-level FWS employee interfered with the listing decision.
Following a two-hour hearing, Myers said the court “agreed there had been inappropriate political interference. It agreed there’d been a mis-statement on the range the bird inhabits. The court agreed the bifurcation of the scientific panel from the decision makers was incorrect and that basically there was a failure to consider the science.”
Myers further explained that the court “directed the FWS to go back and do it over again.” Originally requested to meet a timeline of March of this year, Myers said the agency stated its inability to accomplish such a task properly considering all the changes in sage grouse conservation since listing was first petitioned.
Myers said the later timeline partially hinges on a Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies’ report due out this November. That report will offer an update on the health and status of the West’s sage grouse populations.
Interveners in the case would like the lawsuit wrapped up by the end of this administration, a position they’re likely to pursue in court on Feb. 29. FWS is also expected to support a timeline that coincides with the end of the current administration.
Jeff Eisenberg, executive director of the Public Lands Council, commended Wyoming for its leadership on this issue at the recent NCBA convention. “We’re disappointed the government won’t appeal,” he noted.
Myers pointed out that the sage grouse case took place in the same courthouse as the litigation over BLM grazing regulations. It’s also been the forum for the case involving the future of domestic sheep grazing in Idaho’s Hell’s Canyon area and more. “It’s become a forum of choice for environmental plaintiffs.”