Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced the greater sage grouse is not warranted for listing under the Endangered Species Act, a victory for western rangelands and livestock producers. Unfortunately, in conjunction with this decision, the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service announced that their restrictive land use plans will be implemented. The Public Lands Council and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association have adamantly opposed these restrictive plans, which impede on conservation efforts and range management practices already in place.
“The Administration came to the logical decision not to list the sage grouse, but went ahead and forced through their land use plans, which are just as concerning as a listing,” said Brenda Richards, PLC president. “Instead of recognizing the stewardship that land users have voluntarily put in place, they are pushing forward their agenda which ignores multiple use on our lands.”
Richards, who ranches in southern Idaho, said conservation efforts and land-use decisions are best made as close to the ground as possible. A report released in February showed that since 2010, private landowners have worked with USDA and its partners through the Sage Grouse Initiative to restore 4.4 million acres of habitat for sage-grouse while maintaining working landscapes across the West. Since proper grazing is beneficial to the wildlife habitat, Richards said the government working in partnership with ranchers makes the most sense for the land and wildlife and is how land management and conservation efforts should be made.
“Secretary Jewell’s claim that the ESA is effective and flexible is entirely flawed and misleading,” said Richards. “Of the 1,500 domestic species listed since 1973, less than two percent have ever been deemed recovered. Sage grouse habitat and population is thriving because of the work of the ranchers across the West and the states’ efforts, not due to the Environmental Impact Statements, which have yet to even be implemented.”
In early 2014, PLC and NCBA filed detailed comments addressing concerns with the draft EISs. With little to no improvement in the final documents, the livestock industry filed protests in nine states across the West and is pursuing a legal challenge against the government on their reliance on flawed science.
Robbie LeValley, chairman of NCBA’s Federal lands Committee said the plans are problematic and yet another attempt by the Administration to remove productive uses from the land in an effort to appease radical environmental groups.
“Imposing regulatory change on the grazing livestock industry without any scientific basis is unwarranted,” said LeValley, who ranches in western Colorado. “Ranchers with public land grazing rights work daily to minimize the major threats to sage grouse; removing fine-fuels and providing vast tracts of open space. Wildfire and development are the primary threats to the sage grouse and their habitat, yet this Administration is systematically wiping out multiple-use and ranching through regulatory overreach. It’s clear that these plans are more about managing away from productive uses, rather than actually protecting the bird.”
House Committee on Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) said the decision was a cynical ploy, calling the Obama Administration’s oppressive land management plan the same as a listing,
“Do not be fooled,” said Chairman Bishop in a statement. “The announcement not to list the sage grouse is a cynical ploy…The new command and control federal plan will not help the bird, but it will control the West, which is the real goal of the Obama Administration. Some Western governors see this for what it is and I will work with them to ensure the rational plans created at the grassroots level that solve the problem will be the way forward to protect this bird.”
The Committee will hold a full committee hearing entitled “Respecting State Authority, Responsibilities and Expertise Regarding Resource Management and Energy Development” on September 30.
The federal agencies must move away from the scientifically inaccurate idea that removing, reducing and retiring grazing is the answer to every problem the agencies face on public lands.