Legislation was introduced in both the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate to prohibit the Department of Interior’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from listing the Greater or Gunnison Sage Grouse under the Endangered Species Act in areas where a state management plan is already in place. USFWS has until September 2015 to make a listing decision for the Greater Sage Grouse as a result of a court settlement.
The Sage Grouse is found in 11 states across the western United States, and lawmakers from the potentially affected regions are taking action to prevent approximately 186 million acres of both public and private land from being affected by the listing. The Sage Grouse Protection and Conservation Act, introduced by U.S. representatives Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Rob Bishop (R-Utah) and Senator Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), would empower states to protect Sage Grouse habitat while also balancing the needs of their citizens and economies. Additionally, the bill would require the secretaries of agriculture and interior to consider a state sage grouse management plan 120 days after it is submitted.
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, American Farm Bureau Federation and Public Lands Council were quick to praise the legislation, saying state plans, rather than a federally mandated listing that would curtail use of affected land, is a better approach.
“Livestock grazing and wildlife habitat conservation are complimentary efforts,” said Bob McCan, NCBA president and Texas cattleman. “Ranchers care for the land and the natural resources their livelihoods depend on. The cattle and sage grouse benefit more from native grass and lush forage than endless lawsuits filed by special interest groups.”
AFBF President Bob Stallman said states have a better knowledge of the situation on the ground and should be allowed to continue established efforts to achieve stable, healthy Sage Grouse populations.
“While the sage grouse proposal is specific, a broader application of the state-focused model could prove to be successful in prioritizing effective species conservation efforts by state wildlife agencies and preventing unnecessary federal intervention,” Stallman said. “It is clear that conservation plans developed at the state and local levels provide the greatest opportunity for success.”
Brice Lee, PLC president and Colorado rancher, agrees with Stallman, noting that states and private landowners “have already spent millions of dollars and a considerable amount of time developing management plans, improving habitat, and implementing conservation measures. Lee said listing the Sage Grouse would undo all this work.