A Washington-based legal center is claiming "an important victory for western property owners" against "environmentalists' frivolous lawsuits," after an appeals court ruled in support of a Challis rancher who diverted a nearby stream for agricultural uses. An unpublished ruling by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, released Monday by the property rights group Pacific Legal Foundation, overturned a former decision in U.S. District Court that prohibited ranchers Verl and Tuddie Jones from taking water out of nearby Otter Creek until they installed a fish screen and head gate to protect endangered bull trout.
In a prepared statement, the Foundation alleged that the "real aim" of the conservation groups the Western Watersheds Project and the Committee for Idaho's High Desert was "to shut off the Jones's water use to force the family into bankruptcy and off their land," under the protection of the Endangered Species act. "For the Jones family, like other citizens in Idaho and across the west, the Endangered Species Act has brought nothing but despair, hardship, and lawsuits. Instead of restoring fish, the ESA has been used by environmental groups to hurt people who work the land for a living," said Foundation Lawyer Russ Brooks.
According to John Marvel, executive director of Idaho branch of the Western Watersheds Project, the Ninth Circuit ruling will not be the end of the debate. He said that the groups would continue to pursue the protection of Otter Creek and its bull trout through a federal trial. "I don't regard this as a big setback," he told BW. "We think that they're breaking the law, and all they've done is send it back for trial to develop more information. If we go to trial, that's fine. We'll provide information that will confirm the original decision." As for Brooks' claim of an important precedent being set against environmentalists, Marvel replied, "The fact that this was not released for publication, and that all it did was return it for a trial, does not establish any precedent at all."