Suing the federal government over sage grouse: Denver Post Editorial Board

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Suing the federal government over sage grouse
By The Denver Post Editorial Board

When U.S. Fish & Wildlife director Daniel Ashe was in The Denver Post’s offices in November, he was exceedingly confident about his agency’s chances of prevailing if the state sued over its decision to list the Gunnison sage grouse as threatened.

And perhaps his confidence is well-placed. The federal government is sued all the time over wildlife decisions by every variety of interest group, and usually wins.

But not always — which is why it was good to see Colorado and Gunnison County each file a notice of intent to sue Fish & Wildlife in recent weeks over its unnecessary move to list the sage grouse.

The notices must be accompanied by explanations of the grounds for the pending lawsuits, and these too were encouraging. The state and county are not just quibbling over the odd procedural misstep by the federal government. They’re disputing the scientific judgments the agency used as the foundation for its decision.

“In making the listing decision, FWS improperly analyzed the required factors to make its determination that the Gunnison sage-grouse is threatened; failed to rely on the best available science; and failed to give adequate weight to the extensive conservation efforts undertaken by state and local governments and private landowners,” the state’s notice said.

Gunnison County similarly declared that Fish & Wildlife is flatly wrong about the sage grouse being threatened. The population of the Gunnison Basin, where 86 percent of the species live, is growing, the county points out, and the Rangeland Conservation Plan “estimates that the likelihood of the species becoming extinct in the next 50 years is less than 0.5 percent.”

The most interesting parts of the county’s brief, however, have to do with the extensive measures officials have taken over the years to protect the species, not only in the main basin but increasingly in the counties that have “satellite” populations of the bird, too.

The county maintains that a federal representative attended 69 meetings of the Gunnison Basin Sage-grouse Strategic Committee from September 2006 through December 2012 and yet never indicated those efforts “were inappropriate, insufficient or otherwise unacceptable.”

To the contrary, “Director Ashe commented at a public meeting at Western State Colorado University that the conservation efforts are ‘inspirational.’ ”

Inspirational, huh?

It will be interesting to see what a federal judge makes of all this.

6 thoughts on “Suing the federal government over sage grouse: Denver Post Editorial Board”

  1. Interesting, thanks for posting. They’ll probably have an uphill battle.

    Just a note, a NOI is just that, kind of a “shot across the bow” (and ostensibly gives the agency a chance to mend the error of its ways). It’s not a “brief” (I know, that’s the newspaper’s term, not Sharon’s), and it’s likely a judge will never even look at it (unless the feds challenge its sufficiency to give notice, which seems unlikely). So the real fun will start in about 60 days, if/when a complaint is actually filed in court.

  2. Yes, interesting editorial…. Assuming a lawsuit is actually filed, Sharon, will you be sure to keep us posted? This seems related to a separate discussion here, in which there was some back and forth on how/when/if the Feds use their “trump card”….

    • Yes, Mike, as long as the Denver Post is around, at least, I will be following this. The only reason I might not is if I get into a Clinical Pastoral Education program this summer .. I think they’re 11 weeks and I would be unavailable during that time.

  3. “It will be interesting to see what a federal judge makes of all this.” Weren’t we just talking about ‘judicial deference’ to scientific questions?


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