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Feds drop appeal of slickspot peppergrass ruling


By SEAN ELLIS


Capital Press


BOISE -- Idaho cattle industry leaders and Gov. Butch Otter applauded the Obama administration's decision to drop its appeal of a judge's ruling that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service erred when it listed a native Idaho desert flower as a threatened species.


The administration asked the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals May 14 to dismiss its appeal of a judge's August 2012 ruling that the USFWS' process for listing slickspot peppergrass as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act was fatally flawed.


A federal listing could have impacted many ranchers and farmers in southwestern Idaho and the decision was welcomed by Otter, who has opposed a federal listing of the plant since 2003 when he was a member of Congress.


"It took a while, but the feds apparently have figured out that collaborating and finding common ground is more effective than forcing a wrongheaded listing down our throats," Otter stated in a press release.


The plant is native to southwest Idaho and only found in a limited area. However, the impact of a federal listing would have been severe for those ranchers affected by it, said Idaho Cattle Association Executive Vice President Wyatt Prescott.


He said the critical habitat designations that would have accompanied a listing could have been devastating to ranchers and farmers in southwestern Idaho.


The USFWS listed 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.


"It was the critical habitat designations that would have followed a threatened listing that would have really hurt," Prescott said.


Prescott said the industry has been dealing with the issue for more than a decade and while he's a little cautious about celebrating, "We're very excited to see they dropped that appeal."


Otter helped develop a state conservation plan aimed at preventing an ESA listing of the plant in 2003. When the federal government listed the species as threatened in 2009, Otter and his Office of Species Conservation challenged the listing in federal court.


Chief U.S. Magistrate Candy Dale ruled last August that the USFWS made a mistake when it listed slickspot peppergrass as a threatened species.


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


"Without a properly calibrated definition ... plaintiffs' concern that the species will be perpetually listed is well-founded," Dale wrote in her August ruling.


After Dale on Dec. 4 denied a request to reconsider her August ruling, the federal government appealed her decision to the 9th Circuit Court.



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