On Tuesday November 6, 2001, Western Watersheds Project and the Committee for Idaho's High Desert filed a lawsuit in federal District Court in Portland, Oregon against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the Endangered Species Act for failing to list the Slickspot Peppergrass (Lepidium papilliferum).
This rare flowering plant is unique to southwest Idaho and is under severe risk of extinction because of livestock trampling and grazing and off-road vehicle impacts. The Fish and Wildlife service has identified a total of 8,400 acres of remaining suitable habitat for the species of which only 3.3 acres is high quality habitat.
The Fish and Wildlife Service had prepared a federal register listing notice with endangered status for this species in April, 2000 and concluded at that time that the rate of disappearance of slickspot peppergrass was "the highest known of any of Idaho's rare plant species."
Notwithstanding this finding, the listing was apparently blocked by a letter written by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) in May 2000 to the Washington headquarters of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service which stated: "Discussions with officials at Mountain Home Air Force Base and ranchers in Idaho have impressed on me the enormous impact such a listing might have on a variety of activities in Idaho."
A subsequent emergency listing petition from CIHD and WWP in April 2001 was turned down by the Fish and Wildlife Service without review of the scientific information (most of which was compiled by the agency itself) concerning the critical status for survival of slickspot peppergrass.
The groups have able legal representation by Todd Tucci of the Land and Water Fund of the Rockies' Boise office and Oregon local counsel, Stephanie Parent of Portland.
In October 2001 Western Watersheds Project's Utah office, headed by Dr. John Carter of Mendon, Utah, filed appeals and petitions for stay challenging Utah BLM grazing permit authorizations for 80 federal grazing allotments located in Rich, Box Elder and Tooele Counties on public lands administered by the Salt Lake Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management. These appeals and petitions for stay affect over 1,000,000 acres of public land.
The petitions for stay are unusual in that they all request that the Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA) stay not only the final decisions of the BLM but also stay any livestock use whatsoever, until the BLM has complied with various federal laws including the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA) and the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA). Subsequent to the filings of the appeals and petitions for stay, Glenn Carpenter of the Salt Lake Field office of the BLM sent letters to all the ranchers who may be affected stating that they may not be able to use federal public land next year if the stay requests are granted.
In the event the stays are not granted by the IBLA within the 45 day period allowed, WWP anticipates that litigation in federal district Court in Utah will be initiated in order to seek a court injunction to block turn-out of livestock on these allotments in 2002 until the BLM complies with federal law.