- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 24, 2015

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Idaho officials on Tuesday approved implementing the state’s plan to protect habitat for greater sage grouse on endowment lands, despite frustration with federal land managers.

The Idaho Land Board voted 5-0 to have the Idaho Department of Lands move forward with actions set out in the 82-page Greater Sage-Grouse Conservation Plan the board approved in April.

Implementation of the plan for endowment lands was made contingent in April on federal agencies incorporating a much larger Idaho plan called the Governor’s Sage-Grouse Alternative concerning federal lands in Idaho.

Federal officials did include the governor’s plan but added more restrictions in late September when the Obama administration said greater sage grouse didn’t require federal protections under the Endangered Species Act.

“Not listed but here’s a whole bunch of new rules and regulations,” Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter said just before Tuesday’s vote. “I’m convinced that, like many federal agencies, it’s not about saving the bird, it’s about control. And that kind of control is just unwarranted in this case.”

The additional restrictions, officials fear, could limit ranching, oil and gas development and other activities.

A few days after the no-listing decision, Otter sued in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., contending federal officials wrongly ignored local efforts to protect the bird.

However, Land Board members on Tuesday said it’s important that Idaho still move forward with its plan on endowment lands so sage grouse aren’t eventually listed anyway.

“We’re recognizing the importance of preserving sage grouse and acting affirmatively to provide that protection,” Attorney General Lawrence Wasden said after the meeting.

The Idaho Land Board makes decisions concerning 2.4 million acres of land and is obligated by law to see that the land generates the most amount of money possible over time. That means trying to find a way to meet the constitutional mandate while protecting sage grouse habitat.

In Idaho, more than 10 million acres are designated as important sage grouse habitat. Idaho endowment land comprises only about 620,000 surface acres. However, that’s about 40 percent of endowment rangeland in the state.

“I think our sage grouse plan is effective and will actually increase the number of sage grouse, and I think that’s the goal of everyone involved,” Secretary of State Lawerence Denney said after the meeting.

State Controller Brandon Woolf and Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra also voted to implement the sage grouse plan.

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