Judge rejects splitting up lawsuit over Western habitat for dwindling sage grouse bird

Judge rejects splitting up suit over Western bird

BOISE, Idaho — Environmental advocates say a judge’s recent decision in their lawsuit over dwindling Western bird habitat will let them fight for a sweeping regional solution and avoid costly state-by-state legal battles.

The Western Watershed Project accuses the U.S. Bureau of Land Management of improperly giving priority to grazing and energy development over habitat for the sage grouse, a hen-sized game bird the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering adding to the list of threatened or endangered species.

The conservation group claims the BLM violated environmental laws and its own policies in creating 18 land-use plans covering more than 25 million acres in Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, Montana and northern California.

Last month government lawyers, joined by members of the Wyoming livestock and petroleum industry, asked a federal judge to dismiss the lawsuit or split it apart to be argued separately in federal courts in each state.

Government lawyers argued that the court in Boise lacks jurisdiction over challenges of policy developed in other states and that keeping case consolidated undermines the local public input used to craft each of the 20-year plans.

U.S. District Judge B. Linn Winmill dismissed the idea that he lacked jurisdiction to settle environmental claims in other states, citing a recent example of how a federal judge in Montana has handled lawsuits over delisting wolves in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

“Resolution of environmental actions often affects areas far outside the judicial district of the resolving court,” Winmill wrote.

The case is one of several filed in recent years by Western Watershed on behalf of the sage grouse, whose numbers across the West have dwindled significantly in recent decades.

“I think this shows the judge recognizing that the BLM needs to look at the sage grouse on a West-wide basis,” said Laird Lucas, a lawyer for the group. “This is a big-picture lawsuit that tries to force the BLM to take a big-picture view.”

Government scientists say as many as 16 million sage grouse lived in western states in the early 1800s, thriving in sagebrush stands stretching from Kansas to Nevada and northward into Canada.

Conservationists and biologists attribute the population drop to loss of habitat from urban and energy development, wildfires, the spread of invasive weeds, global warming and livestock grazing.

EATON, Ind. (AP) — Environmental investigators were trying to determine whether a multimillion-gallon manure spill at an eastern Indiana hog farm was an intentional act.

The manure released from a lagoon at the defunct farm on Sunday entered two drainage ditches and flowed to the Mississinewa River three miles away, causing a fish kill, said Amy Hartsock, a spokeswoman for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

Investigators from IDEM and the state Department of Natural Resources were on scene Monday, trying to determine what caused the release of an estimated 4 million to 5 million gallons of manure.

Hartsock said investigators had found “a possible cut in the lagoon dike wall” that might have been deliberately made. The breach was repaired Sunday with help from nearby residents.

An IDEM contractor already had been working since earlier this month to clean up excess manure at the farm, which went out of business after being prosecuted for violating environmental laws.

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