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Sandoval won't rule out joining sage grouse suit but not now

ELKO, Nev. -- Several Nevada counties are acting prematurely in suing to block U.S. regulations intended to protect the greater sage grouse, said Gov. Brian Sandoval, who says he supports the lawsuit but not its timing.

ELKO, Nev. - Several Nevada counties are acting prematurely in suing to block U.S. regulations intended to protect the greater sage grouse, said Gov. Brian Sandoval, who says he supports the lawsuit but not its timing.

Sandoval, who is at odds with the state attorney general, said he won't rule out joining the claim that will go before a federal judge in Reno on Nov. 17. But the best approach for now is to present the state's objections as public comment through administrative channels, said the Republican, who was re-elected a year ago.

"I am very supportive of litigation, but not at this time," Sandoval told the Elko Daily Free Press.

Elko County commissioners voted last week to urge Sandoval to join Attorney General Adam Laxalt in supporting the lawsuit. It seeks a temporary injunction that would block the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management from implementing regulations that the lawsuit calls "draconian land use prohibitions and restrictions."

Sandoval said he received the same request from the Nevada Association of Counties.

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"There's an ongoing process to work with the secretary (of the Interior Department) in terms of getting to the place where I want the state to go and where I'm sure Elko County wants to go that we're comfortable with," Sandoval told the Free Press.

"If we don't achieve that, then I will lead the way when it comes to litigation," he said. "We all want to achieve results that are in the best interest of Nevada."

Elko and Eureka counties, Western Exploration LLC and Quantum Minerals LLC sued Sept. 23 - the day after Interior Secretary Sally Jewell decided against declaring the bird threatened or endangered but announced regulations aiming to protect it.

The suit says the rules could put ranchers and mining companies out of business and block construction of a wind energy project that could bring Elko County $500 million.

The attorney general joined the suit last month, along with Churchill, Humboldt, Lander, Lincoln, Pershing and Washoe counties.

Justice Department lawyers representing federal agencies targeted in the suit said the attempt to block the policies could backfire and ultimately force the government to reconsider whether to list the sage grouse as threatened or endangered.

They said the decision not to list the bird was based on the assumption that added federal protections detailed in the regulations would ensure the grouse no longer faces extinction.

An injunction blocking the rules would "diminish the protections for sage grouse ... undo four years of collaboration and could undermine FWS' (Fish and Wildlife Service's) finding," U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden wrote.

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