ENDANGERED SPECIES: FWS chief touts 'unanimous' agency support for grouse decision | us news

ENDANGERED SPECIES: FWS chief touts ‘unanimous’ agency support for grouse decision

24 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Federal Goverment To Sage Grouse: You’re Not Endangered, For Now.

The announcement Tuesday that the Obama administration decided not to list the sage grouse as an endangered species drew sharp criticism from both environmentalists, who accused the administration of bowing to GOP pressure and energy interests, and from Republicans who are wary of federal jurisdiction over land that could hamper oil and natural gas industry development. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced the greater sage grouse does not warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act during a press conference at Colorado’s Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, September 22, 2015.

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A cooperative effort to save a ground-dwelling bird has diverted it from possible extinction, federal officials declared Tuesday, as they sought to safeguard the habitat of a declining species while maintaining key pieces of the American West’s economy — oil and gas drilling and ranching. Fish and Wildlife Service determines federal land management plans and partnerships with states, ranchers, and NGOs avert ESA listing by conserving America’s “Sagebrush Sea” Denver, CO -(AmmoLand.com)- An unprecedented, landscape-scale conservation effort across the western United States has significantly reduced threats to the greater sage-grouse across 90 percent of the species’ breeding habitat and enabled the U.S. It comes after years of grappling between various agencies and interests, as well as a long-term conservation plan that seems to have already proven somewhat effective. But critics from each side of the political spectrum quickly denounced the move, concentrating on new plans signed in conjunction with the decision that will guide the use of 67 million acres of public lands.

Washburn worked for the Environmental Defense Fund, which is in the process of establishing a conservation exchange program in Colorado in which private land owners who conserve habitat will earn credits they can sell to energy companies in a marketplace, and what Washburn described as the sportsmen community in western states. It seems that the efforts to save the grouse have already been successful at restoring much of its habitat, lost to human encroachment and oil drilling across the nation.

Tuesday’s announcement reversed a 2010 finding that the bird was headed toward possible extinction as development cut into its vast but shrinking sagebrush habitat ranging from California to the Dakotas. That includes commitments of more than $750 million from government and outside interest groups to buy up conservation easements and restore the bird’s range.

So it was a long, drawn-out many months conversation that took place between FWS and BLM.” Washburn said that although the White House made clear its position, it delegated the deal making to the Secretary of the Interior, whose staff frequently brought together all of the key players and “refereed” discussions. The federal holdings make up more than a third of the animal’s total range and do not include millions of acres of private land that will be restored or protected, agency officials said. A number of environmental organizations, including Conservation Colorado, The Western Values Project, Rocky Mountain Wild and the Colorado Wildlife Federation, applauded the decision as a collaborative victory.

Others, such as Utah Governor Gary Herbert, believe that managing and protecting the bird could be done more effectively at the state level, fearing the regulations would have gone too far. Department of Agriculture Under Secretary for Natural Resources and the Environment Robert Bonnie, FWS Director Dan Ashe, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Director Neil Kornze, U.S.

But, for Wild Earth Guardians, which settled with the federal government to set the September 2015 deadline for a decision on listing, the decision was a disappointment. Over the last century, they lost roughly half their habitat to development, livestock grazing and an invasive grass that’s encouraging wildfires in the Great Basin of Nevada and adjoining states. And some conservation groups even approach this as a positive development, if cautiously, such as National Audubon Society President David Yarnold. “Finding a shared path forward beats scaring all the stakeholders into their corners,” Yarnold said. “Of course, now all of these stakeholders have to fulfill their commitments in order to make today’s decision stick.” Hopefully Yarnold is correct and the DOI did make the correct decision. Geological Survey Acting Director Suzette Kimball. “Today’s decision reflects the joint efforts by countless ranchers and partners who have worked so hard to conserve wildlife habitat and preserve the Western way of life,” said U.S. Washburn said he expects the “lawsuits will start to fly” in the next year or so as the plans are finalized and funding sources for the conservation efforts are ironed out.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Together, we have shown that voluntary efforts joining the resources of private landowners, federal and state agencies, and partner organizations can help drive landscape-level conservation that is good for sage-grouse, ranching operations, and rural communities. Erik Molvar with the WildEarth Guardians said the planning effort began with promise, but the exceptions, modifications and waivers they allow mean the protections could evaporate. “What seems to be coming out the other end of the sausage grinder is a weak collection of compromises that will not and cannot conserve the species,” Molvar said. For states like Montana, where 29 percent of sage grouse habitat is under federal management, the problem is that the BLM plans set different standards from their own conservation plans.

The land use plans were developed during over a multi-year process in partnership with the states and local partners, guided by the best available science and technical advice from the FWS. The BLM and USFS also initiated today the public comment process associated with their proposal to withdraw a subset of lands that are sage-grouse strongholds from future mining claims. Since that time, actions from state, federal and private partners have added needed protections, increasing certainty that this important habitat will be protected. While the federal plans differ in specifics to reflect local landscapes, threats and conservation approaches, their overall goal is to prevent further degradation of the best remaining sage-grouse habitat, minimize disturbance where possible and mitigate unavoidable impacts by protecting and improving similar habitat. While private lands programs differ, each works with ranchers, landowners and other partners on long-term agreements to undertake proactive conservation measures that benefit sage-grouse.

Many of these projects also improve grazing and water supplies for ranchers, benefitting cattle herds and the long-term future of ranching in the West. Montana has committed to implement a similar plan that would set standards for managing private and state lands to meet sage-grouse conservation goals.

Other populations appear to be rebounding as they enter a rising period in their decadal population cycle, which can fluctuate by as much 30 to 40 percent. The FWS has found conservation measures will slow and then stabilize the loss of habitat across the range, securing the species success into the future.

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