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Judge sides with Idaho, again, on threatened species


By SEAN ELLIS



Capital Press






BOISE -- Gov. Butch Otter hailed a judge's Dec. 4 denial of the federal government's request that she reconsider her August ruling that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service erred when it listed a native Idaho desert flower as a threatened species.



The main issue in the federal government's request was whether the listing would remain in place while the USFWS addressed the problems cited by Chief U.S. Magistrate Candy Dale's earlier ruling.



If the listing had remained in place, the USFWS could have immediately proceeded with designating critical habitat for the plant's recovery.



Dale's ruling this week's ruling requires the agency to reevaluate the listing according to her instructions.



Slickspot peppergrass is native to Idaho and only found in a limited area. Dale's initial ruling was applauded by Idaho's livestock industry because of the impact an Endangered Species Act listing could have on some southern Idaho ranchers.



The USFWS lists inappropriate livestock use, such as trampling and agricultural development, as some of the threats facing the plant, which has tiny white flowers and grows where small pools of water form in desert areas.



"I strongly encourage the federal government to take Judge Dale's reasoned decision to heart and recognize that there is not a slam-dunk case for simply relisting the plant," Otter said in a statement.



As a member of congress in 2003 Otter took part in developing a state conservation plan aimed at preventing an ESA listing for slickspot peppergrass. However, the species was listed as threatened in 2009, prompting Otter and the state's Office of Species Conservation to challenge the listing in federal court.



The state's lawsuit argued that a species can only be given ESA protection if it's likely to become threatened in the foreseeable future.



In her ruling, Dale agreed with Idaho's contention that the listing ignored the state's conservation plan and that the USFWS didn't adequately determine what the foreseeable future is.



While the plant was listed, the USFWS didn't permit grazing within a quarter-mile of any slickspot peppergrass plant.



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