Sage grouse not listed as endangered, but feds, ranchers, industry offer aid

24 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Cross Off The List.

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. Senator Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, senior Republican in the United States Senate, issued the following statement following the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s announced decision to not extend special protections for the Greater Sage-Grouse under the Environmental Protection Act. “I applaud the decision by the Fish and Wildlife Service to recognize that federal protections for the Greater Sage-Grouse are not warranted.

The continued conservation and recovery of the species has come as a clear result of conservation plans adopted by Utah and other western states, which were developed at the request of former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.” “Rather than allowing these states to continue managing Sage-Grouse recovery in a responsible manner, the Department is adopting federal land use plans to restrict development and access to nearly 3 million acres. On the last day of a summer dominated by bad news, most of it related to wildfires, Baker County Commissioner Mark Bennett was ecstatic to get some good news. This unnecessary action will damage our economy and cost Utah thousands of jobs.Utah is already managing Sage-Grouse to balance both conservation and development. 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. That work, Bennett said, includes efforts by local ranchers, aided by the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Baker County Soil and Water Conservation Districts, to protect sage grouse habitat on private and 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. This study documented a substantial increase in the number of males counted range wide and that state led conservation efforts have resulted in a positive trend in grouse populations. Bennett said his enthusiasm about the government’s announcement Tuesday is tempered by the likelihood that groups which have for years lobbied for sage grouse protection will challenge Tuesday’s decision in court. 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.

That document, and the BLM’s overall strategy for protecting sage grouse, could lead to restrictions on some uses of public land in Baker County, including cattle grazing. 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. 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. 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.

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.

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