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Idaho fights proposed plant listing

Sean Ellis

Capital Press

The state of Idaho is again fighting a proposal to list a native Idaho desert plant as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The state has developed a conservation plan for the plant and doesn't believe a listing is warranted.

BOISE — The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service is again proposing to list a plant found only in southwestern Idaho as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

And the state of Idaho is continuing to fight a federal listing.

Idaho ranchers say listing slickspot peppergrass as a threatened species could cause significant harm to many ranchers in southwestern Idaho because grazing could be restricted in areas where the plant’s habitat is found.

“It will put some cattle ranchers out of business,” said Lt. Gov. Brad Little, a rancher.

Just the possibility of an ESA listing is already having an impact.

Little gave back Bureau of Land Management grazing allotments he had on the edge of the plant’s habitat “because I didn’t want to be anywhere around it.”

He also fenced off private land he owns for the same reason.

Chief U.S. Magistrate Candy Dale ruled in 2012 that the USFWS erred when it listed the plant as a threatened species in 2009.

Dale agreed with the state of Idaho that the agency didn’t properly define when in the foreseeable future the plant was likely to become threatened.

“She did not disagree with the scientific basis for the listing itself,” said Steve Duke, senior biologist for the USFWS’ Idaho office. “The scientific basis and threat to the species have not changed.”

Since Dale’s ruling, the agency has determined the plant’s habitat will become so diminished that it will become threatened in 36-47 years, Duke said.

Slickspot peppergrass is a desert plant with tiny white flowers found in Ada, Canyon, Elmore, Gem, Owyhee and Payette counties. It derives its name from the alkalized slick spots in larger sagebrush habitat where small pools of water form.

The USFWS proposal is the latest development in a decade-long struggle by Idaho, which has developed its own plan to conserve the plant but preclude an ESA listing.

In comments submitted June 5 to the USFWS, the state argued that current and future conservation efforts are sufficient to preclude a listing.

“Once these efforts are factored in, the species’ endangerment risk falls outside of the service’s foreseeable future timeframe and, therefore, cannot be listed as threatened,” Idaho’s comments state.

The state also argued that the USFWS proposal didn’t factor in the impact the new rangeland fire protection associations in southern Idaho are having.

The five groups are helping protect more than 675,000 acres of private rangeland and 2.9 million acres of state and federal rangeland and a large portion of the plant’s habitat exists on land covered by those associations.

The USFWS has determined livestock use to be a lesser threat than wildfires and invasive plant species but Idaho argues that livestock grazing should be removed altogether from the list of threats to the plant.

“The research doesn’t show that livestock are having (a significant) effect on the plant,” said Wally Butler, a range management consultant who was involved in developing Idaho’s conservation plan.


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