Washoe County announced yesterday that it intends to continue in litigation against the federal government over sage-grouse conservation rules released last fall.
The county is protesting the Department of Interior’s (DOI) sage-grouse land-use plans that are designed to protect the bird from being listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
Washoe County is a party to the suit with other Nevada counties and two mineral exploration companies. Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt also signed on to the lawsuit, a move that irked Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval.
Sandoval has been in direct negotiations with federal officials over the issues raised in the suit. He announced in December that U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell would use Nevada’s sage-grouse habitat maps, rather than the federal maps.
The federal sage-grouse maps included parcels, such as a landfill in Eureka County and two Washoe County locations, that were marked as priority sage-grouse habitat.
The county land at issue, an 80-acre parcel in the North Valleys and a 40-acre parcel in Sparks, was slated for a new school and a veterans’ cemetery. But BLM maps identified these parcels as sage-grouse habitat, even though critics said there are no grouse anywhere near them.
“I guarantee you there are no sage grouse there,” said Commissioner Vaughn Hartung. “If there are sage grouse there, I’ll buy (them) a home.”
Sidestepping the lawsuit against the federal government, though, Sandoval met with Jewell in December and announced that the DOI was changing its plans as a result of their discussions.
“Secretary (Sally) Jewell committed to use Nevada’s new maps immediately for project-level decisions,” he said. “This assures that projects like Washoe County’s Veterans Cemetery and prospective sites for new schools are now out of the greater sage-grouse habitat. The Department (of Interior) is committed to formally adopt the maps in the most expeditious manner possible.”
Yesterday, however, the county said that it remains a party to the suit and is proceeding in litigation.
“The court and the parties have agreed to a briefing schedule that will commence later in the spring/summer on an expedited basis,” said Washoe County Deputy District Attorney Michael Large. “The focus of the lawsuit is whether the federal agencies’ implementation of the greater sage grouse plan complied with federal law. Washoe County has asserted injury in regard to the mapping of the area and the loss of certain BLM disposal parcels that have been identified as habitat.”
Large added that the Board of County Commissioners decided to participate in the litigation.
“Ultimately, participation in this lawsuit and any potential settlement is solely the province of the Washoe County Board of County Commissioners,” he added.
District Judge Miranda Du denied in December a request by the plaintiffs for a preliminary injunction against the federal government.
Laxalt responded that the lawsuit is critical to protect the state’s interests.
“As the second most affected Western state, the federal government’s sage-grouse plan will have adverse impacts on Nevada’s economy, growth and development,” he said. “The court’s denial of a request for preliminary injunction will not deter efforts to favorably resolve this matter.
“In fact, Nevada joined the lawsuit to help shape future legal arguments and to protect the best interest of the state.”