BOISE, Idaho (AP) -- Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter is fighting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's plan to list a rare plant as threatened, saying ranchers are already working with the state to protect it in southwestern Idaho's sage-covered desert.
The governor is challenging the listing of slickspot peppergrass under the Endangered Species Act on Dec. 7 in U.S. District Court. He contends the population is at its highest level since 2003.
Listing could result in limits on grazing and other activities on public lands and Otter fears it will scare ranchers from voluntary efforts to save other sensitive species like sage grouse, the Idaho Statesman reported Tuesday.
In a letter to U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Monday, Otter announced the lawsuit and urged the federal government to withdraw its final listing.
"The department's superficial treatment of my robust conservation program for the species and its habitat leaves one to question the legitimacy of any future efforts at collaborative conservation," Otter wrote.
All four members of Idaho's congressional delegation immediately backed Otter on the issue.
"A top down mandate, which is what this listing is, pushes parties apart and is detrimental to species recovery," according to a press release from U.S. Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch and Reps. Mike Simpson and Walt Minnick.
Slickspot peppergrass, which grows almost exclusively in the Snake River Plain, in southwestern Idaho's foothills and on the Owyhee Plateau, blooms with small white flowers that belie the big fight among ranchers, the state and environmentalists over how best to manage the species.
Since at least 2001, conservationists have been petitioning the Fish and Wildlife Service to order federal protection.
Todd Tucci, an attorney with the Boise environmental law firm Advocates for the West, has represented groups such as the Western Watersheds Project that have sued four times to force the Fish and Wildlife Service to list the species. Politics prevented listing in the past, Tucci said, but he's now confident the latest decision will stand up in court.
"Advocates for the West looks forward for the fifth time to persuading a federal judge that the governor doesn't know the difference between real science and cowboy science," he said.
Ranchers fear any listing could negatively impact their ability to turn their cattle out on thousands of acres of public land. It also could limit energy development, construction of houses and even military training on the Orchard Training Area southeast of Boise. U.S. Air Force officials are among those who have fought efforts to list the plant.
Ted Hoffman, an Owyhee County rancher who has worked with the state Office of Species Conservation to develop conservation plans for slickspot peppergrass, feels betrayed by October's announcement to list the species.
The Fish and Wildlife Service is acting prematurely by ignoring all the hard work done within the state, he said.
"We're right back to 'shoot, shovel and shut up' being the prudent course of action," Hoffman said.