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Sagebrush comment period may re-open, county official says


Capital Press

Franklin County representatives say it's likely the public comment period will re-open for listing a subspecies of sagebrush as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

County commissioner Rick Miller said attorneys for the county and for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service held a conference call May 21 regarding re-opening the public comment period for the White Bluffs bladderpod, a subspecies of sagebrush found in Washington's Franklin and Benton counties.

The commissioners were considering filing a lawsuit against the agency to halt the listing of the bladderpod as a threatened species, slated for May 23.

A representative for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was unavailable for comment.

Miller said the agency will likely delay the effective date of the filing decision for six months and re-open the public comment period for 60 days. The service would take another look at the listing of critical habitat for the plant.

Miller said the agency will issue Federal Register notices Wednesday and Thursday and provide notice to the county and the public.

Miller said the commissioners may decide to not file the notice of intent to take legal action against the service, but said he didn't speak for the entire commission. The commissioners are scheduled to meet Wednesday.

"I don't think this has solved everything," Miller said. "There's still a chance we could be right back in the same spot in six months."

James Alford, Franklin County Farm Bureau vice president, said the delay is the first step in what farmers hope to accomplish. They wanted to be sure they were able to comment to the federal government, he said.

The agency has identified 419 acres of private property as critical habitat for the bladderpod.

"Our goal is to make sure there is zero private property in critical habitat," Alford said.

Ideally, landowners would have the opportunity to volunteer for conservation of the species if it's on their property, he said.

"We're pleased with how it's going, but there's still plenty to do," Alford said.


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