Idaho governor appeals dismissal of sage grouse lawsuit

(Image courtesy of U.S. Department of Agriculture)

BOISE, Idaho — Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter has appealed the dismissal of his sage grouse lawsuit, saying the state was not speculating about the damage that implementing the current federal sage grouse plans will have on private and public lands.

Otter filed the notice with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

“We are optimistic that on appeal the court will uphold Idaho sovereignty as well as the state’s good faith effort to effectively manage wildlife within our borders,” Otter said in a statement to The Associated Press.

Sage grouse are ground-dwelling, chicken-sized birds found in 11 Western states, where as few as 200,000 remain, down from a peak population of about 16 million. The males are known for their strutting courtship ritual on breeding grounds called leks, and they produce a bubble-type sound from a pair of inflated air sacks on their necks.

The legal action by Otter was among a number of lawsuits filed in September 2015 after federal officials opted not to list sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act but announced federal land-use restrictions.

Environmental groups later filed lawsuits contending the restrictions designed to protect sage grouse habitat didn’t go far enough.

U.S. District Court Judge Emmet G. Sullivan dismissed Otter’s lawsuit in January. Sullivan didn’t rule on the merits of the claims, but he said Otter lacked standing because the state didn’t prove it had been injured.

“We believe this appeal will show that Idaho was not `merely speculating’ about the damage that implementing the current federal sage grouse plans will have,” Otter said. “Judge Sullivan’s decision failed to take into account the fact that Idaho was supposed to be a full partner in developing a collaborative effort.”

Otter has long complained that Idaho worked with federal agencies to come up with a sage grouse plan only to have Idaho’s input ignored.

His lawsuit lists as defendants the U.S. Department of the Interior, the Interior Department’s U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Agriculture Department’s U.S. Forest Service.

The U.S. Department of Justice is representing the federal defendants. Its Office of Public Affairs declined to comment Friday.

The Wilderness Society has intervened on the side of the federal government.

“We will continue to defend this vital framework that is working to keep the sagebrush ecosystem functioning for the people and species who depend on it,” said Nada Culver, the group’s senior attorney, in an emailed statement.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will review the bird’s listing status within five years.

The Idaho attorney general’s office isn’t handling the lawsuit. It’s being handled instead by Thomas Perry, an attorney representing the governor. As the chief executive, Otter has the authority to hire outside counsel.

Perry didn’t return a call seeking comment.

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