September 26, 2012

Decision stands in sage grouse case

By Brian T. Hodges Senior Attorney

Last February, Chief U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill sustained the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s finding that listing the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act was warranted, but precluded by more pressing projects.  Today, the judge denied a motion by Western Watersheds Project and other environmental groups that sought to amend the February ruling.  Today’s order means the February ruling—and the Service’s finding that listing the sage grouse is warranted-but-precluded—will stand.

In order to uphold the Service’s decision, the court had to find that the Service was making “expeditious progress” on making a final determination to list or not list the sage grouse.  The court ruled that the Service had made that showing.  However, the environmental groups argued that the court improperly relied on material outside the administrative record when it cited a settlement agreement from another lawsuit as evidence of the Service’s progress.  Judge Winmill rejected that argument today, describing it as “essentially asking the Court to evaluate progress by ignoring progress.”

It remains to be seen whether the environmental plaintiffs will appeal.

For more information about this case, check out PLF’s brief.

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Gunnison Sage-Grouse Endangered Species Act Litigation

Colorado and two if its counties challenged the listing of the Gunnison sage-grouse as “threatened” for lack of evidence, and challenged the designation of critical habitat as overbroad. For years, the affected states, counties, and landowners partnered to conserve the species while maintaining economic viability but the federal government ignored these successful efforts and instead imposed significant land use restrictions over a wide swath of land, most of which does not now and cannot ever support a sage-grouse population. PLF filed an amicus brief arguing that the federal government’s actions exceeded statutory and constitutional bounds.

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