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WWP Challenges Failure to Protect Sage Grouse, Rare Fishes in Klamath Basin

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January 24, 2017
Online Messenger #345

Last Friday, WWP launched a legal challenge to a management plan for five National Wildlife Refuges in the Klamath Basin of Oregon and California. The lawsuit cites failures by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect sage grouse and rare native fishes from commercial livestock grazing in the refuges. Despite a mandate to manage the refuges for wildlife, the Fish and Wildlife Service authorized widespread livestock grazing, increasing seasons and areas where grazing occurs, even at the site of the last remaining breeding ground of a struggling sage grouse population.

One of the five refuge units, the Clear Lake National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in northeastern California, was established in 1911 explicitly to protect the habitat of native birds, including the greater sage grouse. The Klamath Basin sage grouse population has dwindled from dozens of leks (traditional displaying and breeding sites) only a few decades ago to one single lek on the Clear Lake NWR that hosts only a handful of breeding males every spring. With this population on the brink of disappearing, it is imperative that the federal government do everything possible to provide suitable habitat for this rare bird—including eliminating unnecessary commercial uses like livestock grazing that are known to degrade sage grouse habitat.

The suit also notes a failure to address harm to endangered Lost River and shortnose suckers. Grazing harms species like endangered suckers, yet the agency approved more livestock grazing without acknowledging impacts to these native fish or their habitat.

National Wildlife Refuges should be managed for native wildlife, not private livestock!

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court in Medford, Oregon and alleges violations of the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act, and other laws. Western Watersheds Project is represented by staff counsel and Portland, Oregon attorney Dave Becker.  A copy of the complaint can be found online here.

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