Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Conservationists win sage grouse ruling

Western Watersheds also sues to protect pygmy rabbits

Express Staff Writer

A Hailey-based environmental group has won one battle to protect a species of concern only to begin fighting another.

The Western Watersheds Project won a court order overturning the Bureau of Land Management's Resource Management Plans for the Craters of the Moon National Monument in southeast Idaho.

Idaho District Judge B. Lynn Winmill ruled Wednesday that the BLM failed to consider negative impacts of grazing and oil and gas development on public lands.

The ruling could force the BLM to redo all management plans for lands within Craters of the Moon, as well as the Pinedale Field Office in western Wyoming.

The main concern, according to Western Watersheds Executive Director John Marvel, is that the proposed plans would have severely damaged sage grouse habitat.

"The Bureau of Land Management's own scientists state that grazing as usual is pushing sage grouse to the brink of extinction," Marvel said in a news release. "We believe this decision will finally require the BLM to curtail or reduce all negative human impacts threatening sage grouse habitats across the West."

According to the Associated Press, it could take the BLM two to five years to rewrite resource management plans, which currently include 280,000 acres of grazing land for nearby ranchers.

Holly Hampton, the BLM's monument manager at Craters of the Moon, said the agency was "nowhere close" to deciding whether to appeal the court's ruling.

Meanwhile, Western Watersheds has already launched a case to challenge the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service's 2010 decision to deny the pygmy rabbit federal protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The palm-sized rabbit was first recognized as possibly in need of listing in 2003, but the service announced there was not enough evidence to display a long-term drop in population. Pygmy rabbits were therefore denied listing, despite the documented decrease in the sagebrush habitat the species relies on.

"I look forward to the day when these charismatic native rabbits once again flourish on public lands throughout the west," Marvel said.

Katherine Wutz:

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