Idaho

Idaho governor, GOP leaders ask to join sage grouse suit

In this March 25, 2007 photo, two sage grouse roosters challenge each other for hens in Rockland, Idaho. (Bill Schaefer / Associated Press)

BOISE – An Idaho ranch’s attempt to block U.S. efforts to protect the greater sage grouse has attracted the support of Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter and other top state Republicans.

Otter, House Speaker Scott Bedke and Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill asked a federal judge last month for permission to intervene in a lawsuit targeting the federal government’s regulation of sage grouse habitat.

“Because over 60 percent of Idaho is managed by the federal government, the Idaho Legislature has a strong interest in ensuring that federal land use issues fully consider the input of our citizens that live, work and recreate on these lands,” Bedke, a Republican from Oakley, wrote in his brief.

The lawsuit was filed in April by Oakley-based brothers Douglas, Don and David Pickett, who own Tugaw ranch. They are being represented by conservative law firm Pacific Legal Foundation.

U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, along with other top federal officials, are named as defendants.

The lawsuit alleges the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service failed to submit the rules to Congress for review.

“The defendants promote nothing less than noncompliance with existing law,” Otter’s attorneys wrote.

Otter’s office did not immediately return a phone message seeking further comment.

The Congressional Review Act gives Congress the ability to overturn recently issued federal rules with a simple majority of both chambers of Congress and approval of the president.

The statute was rarely used during former President Barack Obama’s administration– when the sage grouse rules were adopted. However, under President Donald Trump, Congress has overturned 15 federal rules.

Attorneys behind the Picketts’ lawsuit say the uptick in interest in the Congressional Review Act is a large reason why the lawsuit was filed three years after the rules were adopted. Ultimately, the goal of the lawsuit is to have Congress review and reject the sage grouse rules.

The regulations establish buffer zones as large as 3 miles in diameter around sage grouse “leks,” the traditional breeding grounds for the chicken-sized bird whose numbers have dwindled from 16 million to between 200,000 and 500,000 due in large part to wildfires, mining, livestock grazing and other development across 11 Western states.

The rules have sparked multiple lawsuits but this is the first complaint to target the validity of the process used to create and implement the rules, said Jonathan Wood, an attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation involved in the case.

Idaho U.S. Attorney Bart Davis has asked the federal court to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing the plaintiffs do not have standing to sue.