Friday, January 12, 2007

Western Watersheds fights to protect desert flower

Slickspot peppergrass again denied ESA listing

Express Staff Writer

For the fourth time in as many years, former Idaho Gov. and current Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne denied listing slickspot peppergrass, a rare desert flower found in southern Idaho, as an endangered species.

As a result, Western Watersheds Project, a Hailey-based conservation group that petitioned to list the flower under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), will continue its lengthy legal battle with the federal government.

Western Watersheds accused Kempthorne of ignoring scientific evidence that warrants the flower's protection and caving to the pressures of Idaho's livestock industry and politicians.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to protect the flower, which is now found in less than 100 cumulative acres of southern Idaho's sage-steppe ecosystem, under the ESA in 2000, 2002, 2003 and 2006.

According to Western Watersheds, federal and state scientists list livestock grazing and trampling, off road vehicles and agriculture developments as the flower's primary threats.

"A federal court has already found that slickspot peppergrass stands on the precipice of extinction," said Todd Tucci, senior attorney with Advocates for the West, which represents Western Watersheds. "It is thus incredible for the secretary to claim that populations are stable. Slickspot peppergrass populations are about as stable as flying into the Baghdad International Airport."

John Marvel, executive director of Western Watersheds, added that it appears Kempthorne is content to continue the legacy of former Interior Secretary Gale Norton.

"Secretary Kempthorne evidently supports political interference with ESA decision-making as much as his predecessor," Marvel said. "Scientific data are no longer factors to inform ESA-listing decisions."

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