Western Watersheds Project and the Committee for Idaho's High Desert have sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) for its failure to respond to a petition to list a distinct population of the mountain quail in five states in the West.
The lawsuit, filed in federal District Court in Portland, Oregon, charges that the FWS did not meet a statutory 90 day deadline under the Endangered Species Act to render a finding on WWP and CIHD's petition.
The agency also failed to issue a mandatory 12 month finding on the petition, which was filed in May 2000. "In preparing this petition, we worked with hunters and 'old-timers' who lament agency foot-dragging and the failure to act to prevent the extinction of the mountain quail from vast areas," said Katie Fite, conservation director of the Committee for Idaho's High Desert.
"This large, native quail once lived in the Owyhees, Hells Canyon, the Boise Front, northern Nevada, northwest Utah and throughout eastern Oregon and Washington," Fite added. "Continuing damage to streamside habitat from livestock grazing as well as dams and human development have caused mountain quail populations to plummet."
The mountain quail is the largest quail in North America and breeds at the highest elevation of any quail populating the continent. Its habitat comprises tall, dense, food-producing shrubs in close proximity to water.
Northern and Western Great Basin Mountain Quail and Interior Columbia Basin Mountain Quail are dependent on well-developed, diverse riparian shrub communities found in linear drainages or hillside patches associated with springs and seeps.
Some 80-90 percent of riparian habitat essential to mountain quail in arid, interior lands has been lost, due to livestock grazing, agriculture and, to a lesser extent, residential development.
In 1998, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game published a report on mountain quail that concluded, "Unless steps are taken immediately to conserve mountain quail, they could disappear from Idaho in a matter of years." Both the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service identify mountain quail as a "sensitive species." In Idaho Mountain Quail have been reduced to a few coveys near the Salmon River north of Riggins, Idaho.
Another common quail species, the California quail, a common "backyard" quail in lower elevations, is introduced in Idaho and much of the intermountain west. It often survives in weedy and degraded habitats.
In March 2000, WWP and CIHD petitioned FWS to list the Northern and Western Great Basin and Interior Columbia Mountain Quail as threatened or endangered and designate critical habitat under the ESA. The groups provided comprehensive scientific data to support their request.
The FWS refused to review the petition within the required 90-day period, explaining that it chose to devote its resources to other listing decisions. The agency's 12-month finding on the petition was due by March 28, 2001.
WWP and CIHD are represented by Boise attorney Laird Lucas; Portland local counsel Stephanie Parent and Todd Tucci of the Land and Water Fund of the Rockies Boise office.