Idaho’s state Land Board voted unanimously today to reaffirm its commitment to the state’s conservation strategy for sage grouse, despite differences between the state plan and newly issued federal land-use restrictions that accompanied the September decision not to list the bird as endangered. Idaho is currently suing the federal government over those restrictions, which it maintains were enacted in violation of various federal requirements, including public comment requirements.
“As soon as they said ‘non-listing,' there was a great cheer that went up,” Gov. Butch Otter said. “Then we started reading the fine print. … So here we’ve got a species that does not warrant listing because of what we’ve been doing, and because we’ve actually seen some increases in the bird’s population. It’s not listed, but we’ve got new rules and regulations.”
Cally Younger, attorney for the governor, recounted the history of Idaho’s plan, which began when then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar invited governors with sage grouse habitat in their states to participate in developing conservation plans. “So Gov. Otter immediately got to work, put together a task force, received recommendations,” she said. “By June of 2012 we had a plan put together, out for public comment, and we received really great feedback from the Fish & Wildlife Service, and BLM ultimately included that in its alternative.”
Key components of Idaho’s plan were approved by federal agencies all along, she said, but when the non-listing decision came out, it was accompanied by several new items that weren’t in Idaho’s plan, including a fourth zone dubbed a “Sagebrush Focal Area” with more-restrictive rules. Idaho appealed that through several administrative procedures, and when its appeals were denied, filed suit. “It’s not a challenge for the listing,” she said. “It’s our very strong belief that these land use plans … are unnecessarily restrictive, to sort of get the Fish & Wildlife Service to get to a not-warranted listing. That not-warranted listing is definitely the right decision, but … you could get to that without these land use plans.”
Younger said oral arguments in the case likely will be in May or June in Washington, D.C.
Otter said in his view, the late changes to the sage grouse conservation rules were “about control, and that kind of control is just unwarranted in this case. So I appreciate the board … going forward with Idaho’s plan, which will save the bird, which will increase the population of the bird.” AP reporter Keith Ridler has a full report here.