BOISE, Idaho— Western Watersheds Project applauds yesterday’s announcement from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife that the slickspot peppergrass (Lepidium pappilliferum) will remain protected as “Threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. Political meddling from the livestock industry and its friends in the state of Idaho kept this plant from being protected for over a decade.

Slickspot peppergrass is a fascinating desert plant with tiny white flowers. It is endemic to a narrow band across southwestern Idaho where it occurs only in “slickspots” or wet areas in the desert. Only 100 occurrences of the plant are known. A primary land use on its public lands habitat is livestock grazing. Cattle naturally congregate in the wet spots, trampling the plants and its habitat. This trampling, combined with weed invasions and increased fires—both of which are worsened by cattle grazing—have left the plant in dire straits. As one scientist put it, the plant is “at a tipping point in terms of its prospect for survival.”

“The slickspot peppergrass is a rare and sensitive species that merits the protections that only the ESA can provide,” said Ken Cole, Idaho Director of Western Watersheds Project. “We look forward to seeing meaningful protections, including limits on livestock grazing, that truly protect the limited landscapes where this plant occurs.”

Showing that the livestock industry in Idaho still maintains an outsized hoofprint, the new rule fails to consider livestock grazing as a major threat to the species. The Service lists invasive species and wildfires as dominant causes for concern, failing to recognize that livestock grazing and its pervasive negative influence on arid ecosystems increases invasive species infestations and, in turn, fuels the unnatural fire cycles that harm Idaho’s high desert landscape. The Service also identified Owyhee harvester ants’ impact on the seedbank of the plant as an emerging threat in light of the habitat conversion from sagebrush to grasses which increases the ants distribution.

“The land management agencies are going to have to come up with a better plan for keeping livestock off of grazing allotments in slickspot habitat or the plant is doomed,” said Cole. “It’s ironic that we can talk about the impact of ants to the species but not the effects of the sacred cow.”

About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan's Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of "Hiking Idaho." He also wrote "Beyond the Tetons" and "Backpacking Wyoming's Teton and Washakie Wilderness." He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

3 Responses to Slickspot peppergrass is threatened . . . needs protection from livestock

  1. Ida Lupines says:

    Glad to read this. I get so caught up in our beleaguered wildlife that I sometimes need reminding that our beloved and disappearing native plants and wildflowers should be clamored for too. Down with non-native cheatgrass (and cheats!).

  2. Larry Keeney says:

    Native western botany is as close to my heart as the blue eyes of wolf pups. Always glad to see a dogged approach by WWP and others for saving plants. A point to remember, unlike animals, for the most part plants only receive ESA protection if growing on federal land. Another important reason to not give away our federal lands until they pry our cold dead fingers out of the dirt. Kudos to Ken and others that work so hard.

  3. Nancy says:

    For more info and pixs of Slickspot Peppergrass:

    Click on PDF, in article for the state’s “take”:

    “The State of Idaho commented on the USFWS proposed rule for designating critical habitat for slickspot peppergrass. Idaho’s comments can be read below (State of Idaho’s Comments; Designation of Critical Habitat for Slickspot Peppergrass)

    There’s so much going on here:

    “Perhaps the most significant change in the new RMP is the potential for a marked increase in the number of AUMs allocated for grazing. While increases in grazing are comparatively rare across public lands in the West, Whitlach indicates that, in this case, an increase is consistent with the long-term goals of the field office”


August 2016


‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey