Forest Service can be Sued Over Sage Grouse Decline

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A federal court has refused to dismiss a lawsuit claiming that the U.S. Forest Service is failing to reverse the decline of the sage grouse on the Curlew National Grassland.

The U.S. District Court for Idaho has twice declined to reconsider its ruling that the National Forest Management Act may have been violated. The court found the Forest Service's Long Range Management Plan for the Curlew National Grassland was formed under 1982 regulations, and thus is subject to those regulations and not new regulations that took effect in 2005.

The Forest Service must comply with 1982 regulations regarding the sage grouse as a management indicator species. Management indicator species "obligations" cannot be diluted by the new regulations "without also amending the Long Range Management Plan that relied on the greater obligations," the court said.

The lawsuit, Idaho Wildlife Federation v. Curlew Valley Horse and Cattle Association, charges that the management of the grassland favors domestic livestock grazing at the expense of sage grouse habitat.

The suit grew out of a 1999 appeal to the Forest Service by the National Wildlife Federation and its affiliate, the Idaho Wildlife Federation, to stop prescribed burns and other planned management actions in prime sage grouse habitat in the Curley National Grassland. The Forest Service agreed to postpone burns until a new management plan for the grassland was approved.

That new management plan is the subject of the lawsuit.