Friday, February 11, 2011

Governor’s office chafes at treatment over bull trout, considers suing feds

By Jay Patrick
February 3rd, 2011

State is grandstanding on issue, says an environmental group

Gov. Butch Otter’s office is contemplating suing the federal government over its new designation of critical habitat for bull trout.

“It’s just this overarching, overbearing, overwhelming designation,” said Nate Fisher, administrator of the Governor’s Office of Species Conservation.

The critical habitat areas established last fall by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designates 8,772 stream miles and 170,218 acres of lakes and reservoirs in the state as critical habitat. The rule came following input from interests across the board, including the state. Fisher said the feds flat out ignored the state’s input.

“The final rule included everything possible, everything even remotely feasible. It was breathtaking in scope and it was alarming in its complete and utter dismissal of the state of Idaho,” Fisher said.

The federal government first set critical habitat in the early 2000s, following the listing of the bull trout on the endangered species list in 1998. Environmental groups sued the government back then, saying that areas designated were not extensive enough. Back and forth action since then led to the new designation last fall.

Water users fear the designation could result in new restrictions on irrigation, power generation, and new dam building, particularly in the Boise River Basin.

“This new designation simply could not be much worse for Idaho water,” said Norm Semanko, Idaho WaterUsers Association executive director, last fall in the Idaho Statesman. He could not be reached for this story.

“We feel that it (the designation) was arrived at by the use of sound science with ample opportunity for public agency and state feedback,” said Liz Paul, Boise River campaign coordinator with Idaho Rivers United. “Idaho Rivers United thinks that the state is doing a little grandstanding on this issue and is not exhibiting a full understanding of the role of critical habitat designation.”

Paul did commend Idaho Fish and Game Department for helping bull trout establish a “robust” population across the state since the 1990s.

Jonathan Oppenheimer, senior conservation associate with the Idaho Conservation League, said the federal designation was well thought out and that his organization doesn’t buy the dire economic consequences resulting from the designation predicted by water users (Semanko has said the designation could cost $1 billion.) 
”We question that doomsday scenario,” Oppenheimer said. “Really the designation of critical habitat raised the bar a little bit (but) we don’t really see a huge change.”

Fisher counters: “They really don’t see any more restrictions on land use. The concern that we have is that it opens the door to potential lawsuits.”

Fisher said a timeline has not been set on a decision to sue the feds in order to put the designation on hold and force reconsideration of the habitat designation.

Idaho Reporter

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