Peppergrass Listing Struggle Heats Up


     WASHINGTON (CN) - After the U.S. District Court vacated a 2009 "threatened" listing for an Idaho plant, the embattled slickspot peppergrass once again gets a shot at federal protection.
     The peppergrass, a mustard family plant, was originally proposed for endangered status under the Endangered Species Act in 2002, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reversed its position in 2004, claiming a lack of strong evidence to support the listing.
     In 2004, the Western Watershed Project (WWP) filed a lawsuit challenging the withdrawal and the U.S. District Court reversed the decision to withdraw the proposal and handed it back to the USFWS for reconsideration.
     A 2006 court order required the agency to come up with a final listing determination by Jan. 4, 2007. The agency responded by withdrawing the listing proposal at that time, once again citing lack of evidence.
     In April 2007, the WWP challenged the withdrawal decision, and in June 2008 the U.S. District Court again handed the matter back to the agency for reconsideration. The USFWS then reinstated its 2002 proposal to list the peppergrass as endangered, and in 2009 finalized the plant's listing as threatened throughout all or a significant portion of its range within the foreseeable future.
     Idaho's governor, the Idaho Office of Species Conservation, a livestock producer and two individuals then filed a complaint challenging the 2009 final listing rule.
     In August 2012, the court vacated the final listing and handed it back to the agency for reconsideration on the basis that the term "foreseeable future" was too vague, "necessitating a species-specific definition in order to proceed with the listing," according to the agency's press release.
     "Slickspot peppergrass protection has been thwarted by political meddling since 1990," WWP's Katie Fite was quoted as saying in the organization's statement. "Such semantic wrangling notwithstanding, slickspot peppergrass gets trampled by livestock and run over by off-road vehicles, and the 'slickspots' on which it depends for habitat (miniature clay soil playas) are increasingly disturbed by human activities. The plant only grows in southwest Idaho's sagebrush steppe landscape." (Parentheses in original).
     The USFWS considered the length of time it could reasonably predict threats to the species and determined that the 'foreseeable future' for slickspot peppergrass is at least 50 years, based on habitat impacts from wildfires, invasive nonnative plants and other threats. Based on new information, the agency has also proposed an expansion of the critical habitat designation.
     "The Service has addressed the U.S. District Court's concern about the definition of 'foreseeable future,' and we are seeking public comment on our revised definition," Dennis Mackey, Acting Idaho State Supervisor for the USFWS was quoted as saying in the agency's press release. "We look forward to moving beyond litigation to collaborative conservation of Idaho's rangelands and management of threats that will provide long-term benefit to this and other species such as sage-grouse, as well as Idaho's economy."