A Pair Of Federal Court Victories

Online Messenger #81

WWP has won two legal actions in the last week.

The first removes cattle from a large portion of a critical central Idaho allotment. The second, filed jointly with The Committee For The High Desert and The Center For Biological Diversity, requires the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to study whether three western species at risk warrant listing under the Endangered Species Act.

Here are the two news releases for those victories.

WWP News Release Of June 28, 2004

Federal Court Orders Cattle Removed From The Boulder Unit Of The Lower East Fork Allotment in the White Cloud Mountains of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area

On Friday June 25, 2004 Idaho Federal District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill granted Western Watersheds Project's Motion For A Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) and ordered the Sawtooth National Forest to remove cattle on the Boulder Unit of the Lower East Fork allotment of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area.

The Boulder Unit includes tens of thousands of acres proposed for Wilderness designation by Congressman Mike Simpson (R-ID). The Boulder Unit includes the entire Germania Creek, Wickiup Creek, Little Boulder Creek and Big Boulder Creek watersheds as well as such well known recreation destinations as Frog Lake on the east side of the White Cloud Mountains. It provides important habitat for Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep, Mountain goats, wolverine, wolves, mountain lions, black bears, chinook salmon, steelhead, bull trout as well as elk and deer.

The lawsuit resulting in this judicial order is a consequence of the Sawtooth National Forest's failure to comply with its own final decision of September 30, 2003 which required the closure of the Boulder Unit and other areas on the Upper and Lower East Fork allotments for a minimum of five years. The Forest Service had issued Annual Operating Instructions to the livestock permittees on June 8, 2004 which contradicted that decision and permitted grazing in the Boulder Unit.

In his Order Judge Winmill stated:

"Plaintiff has established that irreparable environmental injury is likely in the absence of injunctive relief, including injuries to environmental and recreational values protected by the Sawtooth National Recreation Area Organic Act, as described by Defendant U.S. Forest Service in the Final Environmental Impact Statement of September 2003 (A.R. Exh. 5)."

Under the Order the cattle that are currently grazing the Boulder Unit must be removed by July 9, 2004.

WWP Executive Director, Jon Marvel, stated: "At least the federal court understands that the Forest Service cannot go back on its own analysis and decision. In this case livestock grazing is incompatible with the values of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area."

WWP News Release Of June 25, 2004

The U.S. Fish and Wildflife Service Is Ordered To Consider Endangered Species Status For Three Western Species Including The Southern Idaho Ground Squirrel.


Federal District Court Judge Ann Aiken of the The District of Oregon issued a Order Monday June 21, 2004 ordering the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to determine whether the Sand dune lizard (New Mexico), southern Idaho ground squirrel, and Tahoe yellow cress warrant protection as endangered species by December 20, 2004. The three species were all the subject of petitions submitted by the Center for Biological Diversity, Western Watersheds Project and the Committee for the High Desert between December 2000 and June, 2002. By law, Fish and Wildlife has one year to determine if a species warrants listing following submission of a petition. They argued that they didn't have to issue findings because the species were already recognized as candidates. The court rejected this argument.

"These species are an important part of the web of life and deserve the protection of the Endangered Species Act," states Noah Greenwald, conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. "We're glad the court rejected the Bush Administration's continued foot-dragging and ordered them to consider these species for protection."

Placing species on the candidate list has been a favorite method used by the Administration for delaying protection of species they know deserve protection. Listing as a candidate provides no protection to species and often results in lengthy delays in real protection. The Tahoe yellow cress, for example, has been a candidate for protection for 29 years, first petitioned by the Smithsonian Institute July 1, 1975. Such delays are not atypical. A review of all species listed as threatened or endangered in the U.S., showed that on average the agency took nearly ten years to list candidate species. At least 34 species have gone extinct waiting for protection under the ESA. The Bush Administration has only protected 31 plants, animals, and fish to date, compared to 394 species protected during the Clinton Administration's first term and 234 during the first Bush Administration-an atrocious record.

"The southern Idaho ground squirrel is a unique part of Idaho's sagebrush country. Its dramatic decline is linked to livestock grazing that causes cheatgrass invasion and resultant large wildfires which eliminate sagebrush habitats", said Katie Fite, Biodiversity Director with Western Watersheds Project in Boise.

Fish and Wildlife claims they don't have enough money to list species needing protection. A review of their annual budget requests, however, reveals that year after year the Department of Interior fails to request enough money for listing. According to their own estimates, 153 million is needed to deal with the listing backlog, yet the Bush Administration requested slightly more than 9 million in 2003. "While the federal government is squandering hundreds of thousands of dollars hiring livestock consultants in Idaho to cover up damage done by livestock, our native animals like the ground squirrel can't get the protection from federal agencies that they need until a court orders them to act" said Jon Marvel, Director of Western Watersheds Project.

Background on the species:

The Sand Dune Lizard has the second smallest range of any lizard in North America, only occurring in southeastern New Mexico and western Texas on sand dunes covered by shinnery oak. This unique plant is often only 4-5' tall, but can be thousands of years old and comprises the largest stand of oak in the country. The heart of the Sand Dune Lizard's range is the Mescalero Sands-a narrow crescent shaped area of beautiful rolling dunes in southeastern New Mexico. The lizard is threatened by a combination of oil and gas drilling and herbicide spraying to create forage for livestock.

The Tahoe Yellow Cress inhabits a narrow seven foot zone between Lake Tahoe's low water line (6223 ft.) and one foot above the high water line (6230 ft.). Forty-eight populations are known to have historically existed on the shores of Lake Tahoe. These populations have declined due to extensive development, fluctuating water levels, pier construction and recreation. Only ten populations were found in 1999.

The southern Idaho ground squirrel has one of the smallest ranges of any ground squirrel, limited to the low rolling hills of Gem, Payette and Washington Counties of Southwestern Idaho. Its sagebrush steppe habitats have been decimated by livestock grazing, development, and invasive species. Although many consider ground squirrels "varmints" that are only good for target practice, they actually serve a number of useful functions, such as aerating soil, creating homes for other creatures like burrowing owls, and acting as a source of prey for badgers, birds of prey and other predators.