ELC Works to Get Federal Protection for the Bi-State Sage-Grouse

This quarter, Environmental Law Clinic students argued initial motions in Desert Survivors v. Dep’t of Interior, the Clinic’s challenge to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s failure to list the Bi-State Sage-Grouse as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Sage-grouse are large, striking birds known for their distinctive mating dance. The Bi-State Sage-Grouse is a subspecies of the Greater Sage-Grouse, and lives entirely in sagebrush habitats of the Mono Basin and surrounding areas in Eastern California and Western Nevada.

Over the past 150 years, the Bi-State Sage-Grouse’s historical range has dwindled by almost half, with the remaining habitat declining significantly in quality. Population has declined even faster than habitat; fewer than 2,500 birds remain, and only a third of historic breeding grounds, called “leks,” are still active. In 2013, the Service proposed listing the Bi-State Sage-Grouse as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. This status would entitle the species to extra protections from habitat and population stressors. In 2015, however, the Service chose to withdraw the proposed listing with little explanation. That’s where the ELC stepped in, challenging the withdrawal as unlawful under the Endangered Species Act and the Administrative Procedure Act.

As with all ELC projects, students have played a leading role in the litigation. In January, clinic students Faaris Akremi (JD ’18), Kirsten Dedrickson (JD ’18), and David Popkin (JD ’18) argued preliminary motions in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Dedrickson and Akremi urged the Court to compel the Service to produce documents we believe were improperly withheld from the administrative record. Popkin opposed several outside organizations’ motions to intervene in the suit on behalf of the Fish and Wildlife Service—interventions we see as primarily obstructive to the administration of justice in this case.

Once the next round of briefing on the preliminary motions is complete, we are excited to move on to the merits, where we believe our case is strong. The precipitous decline of the Bi-State Sage-Grouse is not up for debate, and the ELC is dedicated to getting the species the protections it is entitled to by law. Stay tuned!


Note: Sage Grouse Image courtesy of Sierra Wave