Protections for Idaho’s Slickspot Peppergrass Trampled Again; Agency Proposes Major Cuts to Critical Habitat

For immediate release July 23, 2020

Media contacts: 

Talasi Brooks, Western Watersheds Project (208)336-9077; tbrooks@westernwatersheds.org

Todd C. Tucci, Advocates for the West (208) 724-2142, ttucci@advocateswest.org

 

BOISE, Ida.–– Today’s news that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to slash critical habitat for slickspot peppergrass in Idaho is yet another setback for the beleaguered plant. Occurring in just six Idaho counties and nowhere else in the world, today’s proposal cuts the protected area by nearly one-third of the area deemed necessary for its survival just six years ago in the 2014 proposed critical habitat rule.

“It’s a surgical strike against slickspot peppergrass, reducing the critical habitat only to places where the species already occurs rather than giving it room to recover,” said Talasi Brooks, staff attorney with Western Watersheds Project. “But the reality is, unless they start taking livestock grazing seriously as a threat to the species, it doesn’t matter what they claim to protect because they are allowing the most serious threat to continue unchecked.”

After three successful lawsuits by Western Watersheds Project and Advocates for the West, the Service finally affirmed the “threatened” designation for the slickspot peppergrass in 2016, but political interference from the State of Idaho and the Idaho State Department of Agriculture kept livestock grazing from being identified as a primary threat. Instead, the listing rule blames wildfire and cheatgrass for the species’ imperilment, without acknowledging that livestock grazing exacerbates both of those problems. The vast majority of the species habitat occurs on public lands that are subjected to private livestock grazing operations.

In defining the slickspot’s proposed critical habitat, the Department of Interior is relying on recently revised and highly contested 2019 Trump Administration changes to the Endangered Species Act, which redefined aspects of critical habitat forbid the inclusion of unoccupied areas and mandate consideration of economic impacts in the designation. About 86 percent of the proposed critical habitat is on

“The Endangered Species Act requires the Service to manage for recovery of this native plant, and recovery cannot happen when the Service ignores nearly 90% of Slickspot habitat,” said Todd C. Tucci, senior attorney with Advocates for the West.  “After 20 years, one would’ve hoped the Service learned its lesson that it cannot lawfully prioritize cows over imperiled native species in this area of southwestern Idaho.  Instead, the Service continues to make the same mistake over, and over, and over, blindly hoping for a different result.  Good luck with that.”

The agency is accepting comments on the proposed rule until September 21, 2020.

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