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Judge rebuffs initial sage grouse lawsuit

Thu., April 29, 2010, 3:48 p.m.

TWIN FALLS, Idaho — A judge has dealt environmentalists an early setback in their attempt to challenge the federal government’s recent decision not to grant the sage grouse threatened or endangered species status.

The Idaho-based Western Watersheds Project filed a motion in federal court in March just days after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided against giving the bird special protection under the Endangered Species Act.

In the motion, the environmental group claimed the government’s decision was flawed and left out key information.

That motion was filed as a supplement to a previous WWP lawsuit that prompted the federal agency to reconsider its 2005 decision not to give the chicken-sized bird endangered or threatened protection.

But on Tuesday, a federal judge rejected the group’s motion. In his ruling, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill sided with federal lawyers who claimed the court no longer had any authority to consider legal issues related to the older case.

Laird Lucas, attorney for WWP, said the ruling makes sense. But he told the Times-News a new legal challenge will be filed with the court within days.

WWP has also united with two other environmental groups planning a separate lawsuit on behalf of the sage grouse.

On March 5, the Interior Department announced that protection for the sage grouse is warranted but precluded by other priorities. The bird was once abundant across the West, but it’s numbers have diminished dramatically in recent decades from threats caused by wildfire, oil and gas development, urban sprawl, grazing and invasive species.

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