Over ranchers’ objections, a federal appeals court has ordered the return of a tiny southwestern Idaho snail to the government’s endangered species list.
The Bruneau Hot Springs snail, found only along a 5.28-mile stretch of the Bruneau River in a high desert area, was declared an endangered species in January 1993 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which said its existence was threatened by ground water pumping.
The action, opposed by cattle ranchers and some prominent politicians, was overruled later that year by the late U.S. District Judge Harold Ryan. He said the government had violated some of its own procedural rules, including an 18-month deadline for a decision after the listing was first proposed in 1985.
But the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed with Ryan on Thursday and ordered the snail restored to the endangered list while the case continues. The court said the 18-month limit was intended to encourage the government to move faster to protect species and did not prohibit action at a later date.
The court found one rule violation by the Fish and Wildlife Service, the failure to make public a 1992 U.S. Geological Survey report that was important in the government’s conclusion that the snail was endangered. The Fish and Wildlife Service must release the report and any other new information for additional public comment while reconsidering the snail’s status, the court said.
In the meantime, however, the snail must be kept on the endangered list so that it does not become extinct while the government is deciding whether to protect it, the court said. The 3-0 decision was written by Judge Thomas Tang.
The ruling was a victory for the Idaho Conservation League and the Committee for Idaho’s High Desert, which appealed the case after the Fish and Wildlife Service accepted Ryan’s ruling.
“This decision is important not just for the Bruneau snail, but also for numerous other species listings around the country that have met similar political opposition,” said Laird Lucas, the environmental groups’ lawyer.
“The appeals court held that good science, not political sound bites, should be the test for listing an endangered species in Idaho,” said Rick Johnson, executive director of the Idaho Conservation League.
Greg Nelson, spokesman for the Idaho Farm Bureau, which sued to overturn the listing, said he did not expect the ruling to have any immediate impact on farmers and ranchers in the Bruneau Valley. And he said his organization would be willing to work with conservationists on water management changes aimed at eliminating the need for a listing.