Western Watersheds Project claims feds made “arbitrary and capricious” ruling based on political pressure from industry
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — Federal officials last week did a legal tap dance just about as intricate as the greater sage-grouse mating ritual itself as they announced their decision to not put the birds on the endangered species list, but that fancy footwork won’t be enough to prevent additional legal action.
The Western Watersheds Project is already back in a federal district court in Idaho, claiming that the decision by the Interior Department was “arbitrary and capricious,” and that greater sage-grouse are as qualified as any other species to be listed.
The group claims the decision resulted from political pressure by western states and extractive industries, as well as from traditional users like livestock grazers.
Proving that a federal agency made an arbitrary and capricious decision is not easy, as federal courts tend to give decision-makers a lot of leeway.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concluded that greater sage-grouse are qualified for listing, but that limited resources require the agency to focus on higher-priority species first.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar promised that federal land managers would intensify reviews of projects with potential impacts to the birds, and to step up collaborative efforts to protect habitat on private lands.
A full endangered species listing would force federal land managers to conduct much more comprehensive reviews of projects, making site-specific determinations as to whether a proposal results in harm to the species. Listing also requires designation of critical habitat, which helps delineate the areas where impacts need to be avoided.
In some cases, the formal consultations result in mitigation measures aimed at reducing impacts, or making habitat improvements. Most importantly, a listing requires the federal government to develop a recovery plan to restore populations, and not just to maintain a status quo.
Filed under: energy, Environment, federal government, gas drilling, public lands, wildlife Tagged: | conservation, Endangered Species List, Environment, Greater sage-grouse, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Western Watersheds Project