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Idaho Challenges Feds on Environment

WASHINGTON (CN) - Idaho Gov. Butch Otter says the federal government is undermining his right to manage slickspot peppergrass by listing it as a threatened species, and that this will have a "chilling effect" on Idaho's collaboration on conservation.

The desert flower is named after the puddles or pools in which it grows after rain or snow. It is found only in select areas of Idaho's sage-steppe ecosystem.

The plant is an indicator species for the ecosystem and is threatened by livestock grazing, off-road vehicles and other human activities.

Otter claims the Fish and Wildlife Service's flip-flopped on the plant's listing, which has been proposed and withdrawn twice since 2002.

After the initial listing, Idaho worked with agencies and holders of public-land grazing leases to develop a conservation agreement to maintain "predictable levels of land use," Otter says.

The governor says the Air Force simultaneously developed a resource management plan to account for its impacts on the plant, including wildfire, from use of the Orchard Training Area.

In previous cases, the Western Watersheds Project, which filed the initial listing petition and challenges to both withdrawals, accused state and federal officials of political meddling with the listing decision.

But Otter claims the listing was arbitrary, since an accurate count of the species' population is impossible given available information.

Given the unreliable data and limited evidence on population decline, Otter claims the listing decision ignores voluntary collaborative conservation measures.

He seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, vacating the October 2009 listing decision.

Otter is represented by Michael Klise of Crowell & Moring in Washington, D.C.

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