Judge bumps snail off endangered species list
The tiny Bruneau hot
springs snail is having a large impact in Idaho - and perhaps the
On Dec. 14, U.S. District Judge
Frank Ryan removed the 4-millimeter animal from the endangered
species list. It was the first successful challenge of an animal or
plant listing under the federal Endangered Species Act.
Ryan's ruling, that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service erred by taking too long to act on the petition to list the
species, could place the listing of dozens of other endangered
species in doubt.
The listing of the snail in
1992 threatened to limit how much water farmers could pump from an
acquifer to irrigate 18,000 acres around the Bruneau River. The
Farm Bureau, Owyhee County and Owyhee Cattlemen's Association sued
Fish and Wildlife to stop the listing, which had first been
proposed in 1985.
At that time, Sens. James
McClure and Steve Symms, R-Idaho, pushed by the same groups,
threatened to delay funding for all endangered species if Fish and
Wildlife Director Frank Dunkle did not delay the snail's listing.
In exchange, Fish and Wildlife got funds in 1988 to look for other
snail colonies (HCN, 11/30/93).
Laird Lucas, an
attorney with the Land and Water Fund of the Rockies in Boise, said
the farm groups forced the manipulation of the listing process that
they eventually challenged,
"They set a
train on a course for a wreck, then stood back and took advantage
of it when the train wrecked," he said.
Tracy, an Idaho Farm Bureau spokesman, said the agency still must
accept the blame. "If they had followed the letter of the law, they
would have just withdrawn the decision," he said. "They didn't have
enough data in the first place."
biologists and environmentalists say there is plenty of evidence
that the snail is still endangered and point to a part of Judge
Ryan's order which says the agency, despite its procedural
mistakes, "articulated a rational connection between the factors
identified and the choice made" to list the species.
Still, environmentalists are worried the recent
decision could open the door to more challenges of endangered
species listings. During the Reagan years, political pressure
delayed the listing process for dozens of species, said Lucas. That
includes four other threatened and endangered mollusks on the Snake
River. The situation has threatened to delay Idaho Falls' Shelley
Lucas said the Bruneau
snail listing was "picked by the wise-use movement as a target
case" to test its argument against agency listing delays. "I
wouldn't be surprised to see this same argument cropping up
elsewhere," he said.
The Fish and Wildlife
Service has not decided how it will respond to the decision, but
the involvement of Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt could influence
the agency's direction. On a Dec. 19 tour of the hot springs that
support the last colonies of the snail, Babbitt told ranchers,
environmentalists and government scientists that the snail problem
was simply a matter of better groundwater management, reports
"We can get it solved,"
Babbitt said. "Perhaps that will make any further listing of the
Babbitt called on the state
to develop a groundwater management plan that will assure adequate
water for the snails. Lucas welcomed Babbitt's interest in the
issue, but said the Land and Water Fund and the two groups it
represents, the Idaho Conservation League and the Committee for
Idaho's High Desert, will likely appeal Ryan's decision, even if
the Fish and Wildlife Service doesn't.
The writer is a staff
writer for the Idaho Falls Post Register. Paul Larmer contributed
to this report.