By KIMBERLEE KRUESI | Associated Press
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter says he’s suing the federal government for failing to provide a transparent process in setting new public land-use restrictions designed to protect sage grouse habitat.
Otter made the announcement Friday, contending the federal government has wrongly ignored Idaho’s efforts to prevent the bird from being listed as an endangered species.
The Interior Department said Tuesday it decided to deny protections for the greater sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act. The same day, the agency released final changes to federal land-use plans in 11 Western states designed to protect the bird’s habitat.
“We didn’t want an ESA listing, but in many ways these administrative rules are worse,” Otter said in a statement. “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.”
In the lawsuit, Otter’s attorneys said the governor created an “innovative strategy” that would allow for predictable levels of land use for the state while addressing the primary threats to sage grouse, wildfire, invasive species, and habitat fragmentation caused by development. The result, the attorneys contend, was a reasonable balance between state and national interests.
But the federal agency opted to move forward with a different strategy that would withdraw 10 million acres from future mining claims across the West, prohibit oil and gas drilling near breeding grounds, and impose new reviews on grazing permits.
Idaho’s attorneys said Otter and the Legislature appreciated the efforts that went into creating the national sage grouse strategy, and that both sides of the issue shared the goal of avoiding the significant economic impacts that an Endangered Species Act listing would mean.
“But sometimes the cure is worse than the disease,” the attorneys wrote in the lawsuit.
According to the complaint, the Idaho Legislature is joining Otter as a plaintiff.
“Secretary (Sally) Jewell, and Secretary (Ken) Salazar before her, promised a transparent public process, but in the end they imposed unnecessary land management policies that have little or nothing to do with the birds, all developed during closed-door sessions with no input from Idahoans who have worked hard on our state management plan,” said House Speaker Scott Bedke of Oakley, a former member of the state’s sage grouse task force.
The lawsuit also received support on Friday from Idaho Department of Fish and Game Virgil Moore and Lt. Gov. Brad Little praising Otter’s leadership and urging the need for the lawsuit.
Officials in Nevada and some mining companies also sued the federal government over the new restrictions on mining, energy development and grazing.
Jewell spokeswoman Jessica Kershaw declined to comment directly on the lawsuits but said the agency believes the plans are balanced and effective and followed the best available science for protecting the bird.