Laxalt and Sandoval disagree as AG joins sage grouse lawsuit

Attorney General Adam Laxalt this morning filed suit against the federal government's sage grouse land-use plan, going against the wishes of Gov. Brian Sandoval, who has been negotiating to prevent a listing of the bird.

"By pursuing litigation now, the Attorney General is acting in his personal capacity and does not represent the State of Nevada, the Governor, or any state agencies," Sandoval said in an unusally sharp rebuke to the AG. (Full statement below) 

The lawsuit, which you can see below, was filed in federal court. The AG, knowing of the governor's opposition, gathered statements from the entire GOP federal delegation, rural lawmakers and others, indicating he knows the political fight with the governor is relevant. (I have posted those below, too.)

No statement yet from the governor, but sources tell me he is not happy, raising (as it he did with Laxalt suing the feds over an immigration executive order) the issue of who the AG represents. Each side focuses on different statutes, with both believing they are on solid legal ground.

The governor cites NRS 228.180 ("consent of the governor") and the AG invokes the subsequently enacted NRS 228.190. The issue does differ from immigration in that the sage grouse is clearly a state issue and does affect public lands.

But would the governor push this into court to, once and for all, get a resolution of what the AG can do? That might be too much to ask for fans of political theater.

Here is the suit and the statements:

Nevada v Dept of Interior Am Complaint by Jon Ralston

Sandoval statement:

“If the Greater Sage-grouse had been listed as an endangered species, the consequences of that listing would have been permanent and inflexible. It would have given exclusive control of the management of the bird as well as the habitat to the federal government.


The "unwarranted" decision keeps management of the Greater Sage-grouse with the Nevada Department of Wildlife and protects Nevadans from having to engage in formal consultation with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) on how to manage private land as well as public.


The Governor has been proactively engaged on this issue from the beginning of his administration, and he has worked with all stakeholders to achieve a mutual goal: preventing the listing of the Greater Sage-grouse as an endangered species.


The federal government’s decision not to list the Greater Sage-grouse is a direct result of the State of Nevada's strategic collaboration with other western states through the Western Governors Association, as well as the Department of the Interior.  Many Nevadans, including local industry stakeholders, sportsmen, conservationists and the general public, participated in this engagement strategy and they will continue to be involved moving forward.


Prematurely embroiling the State in costly litigation at this juncture threatens to compromise future collaborative efforts to implement the Nevada plan developed over the last four years by the Sagebrush Ecosystem Council.  The Council is comprised of state and local leaders, alongside industry and conservation stakeholders, who have been working on this issue for years and will continue to be engaged in the Governor's response to the USFWS decision.


The Governor continues to have significant concerns about the 10 million acres -- 3 million of which are in Nevada -- that were immediately withdrawn from future mineral entry and multiple use by the Bureau of Land Management and will continue to engage Secretary Sally Jewell on this issue.


The Governor’s course of action is informed by more than a decade of experience on this issue and he believes it is premature to pursue litigation. The Governor believes that joining a lawsuit now will chill ongoing discussions between the state and Department of Interior, divert resources from the current strategy of engagement and could actually undermine the "not warranted” decision nearly every stakeholder has been working toward for over a decade. Once this collaborative phase of engagement is complete, further action will be considered.


By pursuing litigation now, the Attorney General is acting in his personal capacity and does not represent the State of Nevada, the Governor, or any state agencies.”----



Senator Dean Heller added, “As I said before, the final greater sage-grouse land-use 

plans are not a win for Nevada—new restrictions on over sixteen million acres in our 

state alone pose a threat to our western way of life. I support efforts to stop these 

unnecessary regulations in their tracks and allow rural Nevada to thrive economically.” 

Congressman Mark Amodei stated, “For 150 years, Nevadans have lived with decisions 

made from thousands of miles away in Washington, D.C. Nobody else does it this way–

not at the local and state levels and not at the federal level for much of the nation. The 

sage hen resource management plans are based on political maneuvers where the last 

consideration seems to be multiple use in the West. The result is a nearly three million 

acre exclusion zone because the Interior officials in D.C. do not have to live with their 

rulings the way Northern Nevadans do. When the Department of the Interior completely 

ignores input from Nevada’s Environmental Impact Statement, I believe no tool should 

be left in the shed, and one of those tools is litigation.”

Before the federal government adopted its final plan last month, Nevada developed a 

State Plan that focuses on the specific needs of the sage-grouse population within the 

state while balancing relevant economic and rural concerns, and ensuring that federal 

land remains available for multiple uses. The plan was developed through the Sagebrush 

Ecosystem Council, and received input from all stakeholders including representatives 

from local government, the general public, wildlife, mining, ranching, tribal nations, 

energy, agriculture and conservation organizations.

The federal government is required by law to adopt a plan that allows for multiple uses 

that is consistent with the State Plan where possible. Despite repeated efforts by state 

and local officials, the federal government rejected major portions of the State Plan and 

withdrew millions of acres from other uses.

“Those who live closest to the land are the best stewards of it,” said Congressman 

Cresent Hardy. “This has been proven particularly true in Nevada, where locally driven 

conservation efforts helped keep the sage-grouse off of the endangered species list. But 

the federal government is actively choosing to ignore that reality. Washington should 

leave land management to those who need it most and who know it best.”

Congressman Joe Heck added, “On the surface, the Obama Administration’s decision 

not to list the sage-grouse as a threatened or endangered species may seem like a win 

for Nevada. However, the land use plans BLM and the Forest Service intend to 

implement have created a de facto listed designation by locking up millions of acres of 

land in our state and across the West, greatly restricting our future economic 

development. This is consistent with the Obama administration’s habit of disregarding 

solutions to local challenges developed at the state level, and instead choosing to enact 

its agenda through executive actions like these land-use plans. Nevadans came together 

and developed a plan to protect the sage-grouse and its habitat while still allowing lands 

to be used for economic development opportunities and recreation. Unfortunately that 

plan was rejected by bureaucrats at the Department of the Interior who have no 

connection to the land and won't have to deal with the consequences of their land-use 

plan. Nevada should pursue this litigation to protect our state from the negative impacts 

of yet another example of federal overreach.”

Statement by Senator Pete Goicoechea:

“Attorney General Adam Laxalt’s move to join Eureka and many other Northern Nevada 

counties in challenging the BLM and U.S. Forest Service Sage-grouse Management 

Plan sends a strong signal that this massive, federal land grab has devastating 

implications for Nevada. Governor Sandoval’s Consistency Review letter and formal 

appeal provide a strong platform for the attorney general to fight against the land use 

prohibitions and restrictions in the federal plan which substantially interfere with the 

state’s and Nevada counties’ Sage-grouse Conservation Plans. The state and county 

plans focus on habitat conservation, ensure long-term socioeconomic stability to 

preserve our way of life, and achieve the proper balance between the national interest 

and state and local interests. The federal plan upsets this balance, does not provide 

optimal sage-grouse conservation, and will cause widespread economic harm.”

Statement by Senator James Settelmeyer:

“The sage grouse issue has the potential to decimate the way of life in rural 

communities by restricting access to the public’s lands for recreation or businesses like 

mining, agriculture and hunting. The current trend by federal regulators needs to be 

checked by sound scientific data. I support the attorney general in doing just that.” 

Statement by Senator Don Gustavson:

“The Western states support land management that is not at the expense of Nevada’s 

economic development or culture. The federal plan does not take our state’s 

socioeconomic needs into account, and will be detrimental to Nevada’s development. I 

applaud the attorney general’s understanding of our rural culture, and support his efforts 

in this lawsuit.”

Statement by Assemblyman John Ellison:

“I appreciate the attorney general’s challenge to the federal conservation plan, which 

will have a tremendous effect on Nevada’s cultural landscape and economy. Nevada’s 

plan strikes a balance between conservation efforts and economic considerations, and 

would offer this state much-needed stability.”

Statement by Assemblyman Jim Wheeler:

“The federal government’s top-down land management plan will have a significant 

impact on the western states, especially Nevada. I am grateful to the attorney general 

and his office for acting in the best interest of this state and its rural culture.”

Statement by Assemblyman Ira Hansen:

“The federal government’s disregard for Nevada’s proposed state conservation plan will 

devastate our state’s economy. Nevada’s plan was carefully considered and backed by 

scientific data, and should have been taken seriously by the federal government. I 

commend the attorney general for taking a stand and protecting this state’s rights and 

best interests.”

Statement by Washoe County Commissioner Jeanne Herman:

“I want to thank Attorney General Laxalt for joining this litigation challenging the BLM 

and U.S. Forest Service Sage-grouse Land Management Plan. This Plan has already 

interfered with Washoe County’s ability to acquire an 80-acre parcel in the North Valleys 

needed for a new middle school, as well as a 40-acre parcel in Sparks identified for a 

veterans’ cemetery. BLM’s maps incorrectly show these parcels as sage-grouse habitat 

even though county maps clearly indicate they are not habitat and are suitable for 

acquisition and development. Future conflicts are inevitable because public lands 

surround Reno-Sparks suburban areas. The county must be able to acquire public 

lands to support future community development objectives.”

Statement by Elko County Commissioner Demar Dahl:

“Attorney General Laxalt’s involvement with this litigation makes a bold statement that 

the BLM and U.S. Forest Service Sage-grouse Management Plan is wrong for Nevada. 

As ground zero for the Plan’s draconian land use restrictions and withdrawals, Elko 

County applauds Attorney General Laxalt’s decision to join this litigation and help us 

stop the agencies from placing over two million acres in Elko County off-limits to mining 

and other uses. The Plan has already cost Elko County $500 million from a wind energy 

project prohibited from being developed, and will cost at least $31 million annually in 

lost agricultural productivity.”

Statement by Nevada Petroleum Marketers Association Executive Director Peter 


“We are in full support of Attorney General Adam Laxalt's lawsuit in opposition to the 

federal government's latest overreach into state affairs. The BLM's new land use plans 

will close down all mining activity in Nevada, hurting not only the residents but all of the 

mining companies. Our industry is important to Nevada's economic well-being and 


Statement by the Nevada Association of Counties (NACO):

“The Nevada Association of Counties appreciates Attorney General Adam Laxalt’s 

decision to join the Counties’ lawsuit to challenge the BLM and U.S. Forest Service 

Sage-grouse Land Management Plan. This Plan is unprecedented in its scope and is 

impactful, as it is the first Land Management Plan to use multiple-use statutes to protect 

a single species to the exclusion of other land uses. The Plan imposes unworkable 

travel restrictions and buffer zones that interfere with Counties’ police powers and their 

abilities to provide for public health and safety, as well as recreation, ranching, 

renewable energy and mining on which these counties rely for funding and employment. 

Further, the Plan withdraws 2.8 million acres from mining and other uses upon which 

many county economies depend. We applaud the attorney general for his leadership in 

helping us protest the federal government’s approach to managing sage grouse habitat-

-an approach that is not based on best available science, ignores local habitat 

conservation and land use plans, and fails to include effective measures to reduce the 

primary threats to sage-grouse habitat.”

Statement by Western Exploration, LLC Project Manager John Cleary:

“Western Exploration, LLC is very pleased that Attorney General Adam Laxalt is helping 

us challenge the BLM and U.S. Forest Service Sage-grouse Land Management Plan. 

This Plan threatens to destroy our Gravel Creek Project in Elko County, and the future 

of our company because our mining claims are in a withdrawal area. Western 

Exploration’s Gravel Creek Project is an exciting new discovery of a gold deposit that 

shows real promise to become a viable mining project. The Plan puts at risk our $32 

million investment in this project and the many jobs and state and local economic 

benefits that would result from future development of a mine. We already have many 

sage-grouse habitat protection measures in place that make development of this project 

and sage-grouse conservation mutually compatible objectives, proving that the federal 

land withdrawal is an extreme measure that is not necessary to protect sage-grouse.”

Statement by the Nevada Farm Bureau Federation:

The Nevada Farm Bureau Federation applauds Attorney General Adam Laxalt’s 

decision to join the counties’ lawsuit challenging the BLM and US Forest Service Sage 

Grouse Land Management Plan. The plan fails to adequately address the biggest 

threats to the sage grouse population: wildfire, invasive species and conifer invasion, 

and it unfairly regulates industries like ranching without sound science or reasonable 

procedures. Restrictions on the ranching industry will affect timing of range 

improvements, reduce livestock numbers on federal lands, eliminate or reduce actively 

permitted grazing allotments, and impact the ability to renew future livestock permits. 

The restrictions will also be counter-productive for the bird and its habitat. By eliminating 

a multi-use concept, the focal areas and priority habitat will become exclusion areas, 

which will decrease habitat restoration abilities by all industries and will increase the fuel 

load and intensity of wildfires in those habitats. This heavily restrictive, hands-off plan 

will result in the death of industry in Nevada and a steep decline in sage grouse 

numbers. We applaud Attorney General Laxalt and the others on the lawsuit and call for 

a local and state approach to ensure that the sage grouse population and Nevada 

ranching can thrive.

Statement by Ninety-Six Ranch Manager Fred Stewart:

“We thank Attorney General Laxalt for joining the lawsuit to help us oppose the BLM 

and U.S. Forest Service Sage-Grouse Land Management Plan. This Plan will effectively 

put us, and others like us, out of business. It is truly unfortunate that the agencies chose 

to ignore the strengths of the Nevada Sage-grouse Conservation Plan and Governor 

Sandoval’s enormous efforts to work with them. As Nevada’s only sesquicentennial 

ranch owned and operated by one family, we know best how to care for our land and 

have a demonstrated track record of successfully protecting the sage-grouse habitat. 

However, we must challenge the federal Plan, which is effectively a massive federal 

land grab that substantially interferes with our ranching operation, will increase the 

buildup of rangeland fuels and result in habitat destruction due to wildfires, and 

threatens our family’s way of life.”