Reactions to Sage Grouse Decision

sage_grouse-300Several organizations and individuals have spoken out about yesterday’s decision by the Interior Department that keeps the Greater Sage Grouse off of the Endangered Species List. Senators Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet, and Representative Scott Tipton praised the decision as a measurement of the conservation efforts state and local officials can accomplish without federal interference. Statements were also issued by several organizations, such as the Environmental Defense Fund, Western Energy Alliance, the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, and the Mule Deer Foundation applauding the decision. Moffat County Commissioner Chuck Grobe said yesterday that while the news is good, it ushers in a new problem in how the lands will be managed from here on out. Grobe says the state BLM and Forest plans that helped keep the bird from being listed are too restrictive, and will encroach on private property rights. The science behind the plans is being challenged in court by the oil and gas industry and several counties, including Moffat, through the Data Quality Control Act. You can view the video of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell making the decision, as well as comments issued by the various individuals and organizations regarding yesterday’s decision below.

“The decision whether or not to list the greater sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act was one of the biggest listing decisions of our time. Thanks to unprecedented public-private partnerships among ranchers, energy developers, conservationists and states, we now have the foundation to guide future management of our nation’s wildlife and working landscapes.

“There simply aren’t enough protected areas in the U.S. to ensure the survival of the more than 250 species that await listing decisions under the Endangered Species Act. We need new conservation tools that unlock the vast, untapped conservation potential of America’s private working lands.

“In places like Colorado, energy companies, agriculture leaders and the state are working together to put forth new solutions like the Colorado Habitat Exchange, proving that wildlife conservation does not have to come at the expense of the economy. That in fact, it is just the opposite. Similar efforts to launch habitat exchanges are underway in Wyoming, Nevada and other western states.

“Today’s decision sends a strong signal that investments in conservation are making a difference and provide the catalyst for a different kind of politics.”

– Eric Holst, associate vice president of working lands, Environmental Defense Fund

“Keeping the greater sage-grouse from being listed as an endangered species has always been my goal, and I’m glad Secretary Jewell arrived at the same conclusion. Greater sage-grouse populations are increasing, and I commend the collaborative efforts from stakeholders to keep this bird from being listed. While land use management is best handled by local groups, landowners and state leaders, I will be closely monitoring the implementation of the federal land-use management plans on our public lands in Northwest Colorado and across the West.”

“Today’s announcement is a testament to the tireless work of our local communities, along with the state, to enhance conservation efforts.  Colorado farmers, ranchers, local governments, conservationists, and community members have worked for years to find innovative ways to protect sage grouse habitat.  This decision ends the uncertainty hanging over the heads of families, farms, and businesses on the western slope.  It’s also another reminder that Coloradans can work together to develop commonsense solutions to difficult problems that can serve as a model for the nation. Now it’s important that the collaboration and hard work continue to effectively and successfully implement the state, federal and voluntary plans in a way that works for everyone.”

Colorado Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) is pleased by today’s announcement by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell that the greater sage grouse does not warrant listing as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act.  CCA supports and acknowledges the agency’s prospective view on this being a watershed moment for collaborative and innovative species conservation.

Despite this affirmative decision by the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), CCA still has very real concerns with the conditions of this decision that are being placed on the State of Colorado, and agriculture and mineral estate property owners. “We are certainly happy about this listing decision, we know that there is still considerable work to be done in protecting the greater sage grouse,” says northwest Colorado rancher, T. Wright Dickinson. He continues, “Even though the grouse was not warranted for listing, the regulations that are being imposed could act as a “de-facto listing” without transparency and certainty of regulations for states and property right owners.”

CCA is asking officials for clarification to prevent a guessing game for landowners and state staff of the FWS and the Bureau of Land Management. The current regulatory model does not allow for adaptive management and the highest conservation return for the species.  “Local representatives must be allowed to cooperatively design and implement BLM’s management plans that work for the grouse and enable local economies,” said CCA President Bob Patterson. Patterson went on to say that he understands there are specific concerns about FWS’s planned approach to implementing cutting-edge grouse science as it evolves; along with the agency’s desire to have veto power over local land development, such as energy, regardless of local impacts or mitigating opportunities.

Ranchers and landowners in Colorado, and across the West, have worked diligently with state-level regulatory agencies on voluntary conservation measures.  One shining example is the creation of the Colorado Habitat Exchange which is a collaborative effort between CCA, Partners for Western Conservation, the Environmental Defense Fund, energy companies and wildlife regulatory agencies. This voluntary program provides financial incentives to ranchers and landowners to better care for the the greater sage grouse and its habitat, plus regulatory assurances to both ranchers and those entities working to offset impacts.

CCA will continue to monitor the grouse situation and engage regulatory agencies to ensure that the best interest of the species is being met and the interests of the landowners are being considered.

“We applaud Secretary Jewell’s decision that a listing of the Greater Sage-Grouse is not warranted,” said Kathleen Sgamma, vice president of government and public affairs. “States, counties, federal agencies, industries, ranchers, private landowners and conservation groups have come together to successfully protect the sage grouse and its habitat. The Fish and Wildlife Service has correctly recognized that those efforts are more effective than a federal listing under the Endangered Species Act.

“The Interior Department arrived at the right decision, but took the wrong path to get there. The decision rests on robust population numbers and effective state and local efforts that are working to protect the species, not the flawed federal land use plans that the Secretary also released today. As state wildlife agencies have shown, sage grouse populations have not only rebounded recently but are stable over the long-term. The scientific work underpinning our Data Quality Act challenges will be invaluable to support the not-warranted decision while still enabling legal challenges to the land use plans to move forward.

“We are disappointed that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service persist with top-down, centralized management of sage-grouse on public lands that discourages more effective western efforts,” continued Sgamma. “Rather than incorporating state sage grouse plans into the federal plans, BLM has discounted the input and conservation work of governors, counties, and productive public land users in favor of a uniform approach.

“In our protests of the land use plans, we highlighted the many corners that were cut in the process that leave the agencies vulnerable to legal challenge. The plans exaggerate the impact from energy development and fail to recognize that oil and natural gas coexists with sage grouse conservation. In fact, companies already avoid, minimize, and mitigate impacts and have implemented over 770 specific conservation measures to protect sage grouse,” concluded Sgamma.

“We greatly appreciate this Administration’s decision that the greater sage-grouse will not be added to the endangered species list,” said Art Reese, a retired administrator of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and a member of the MDF board of directors. “The public/private conservation efforts to restore our sagebrush ecosystems across the West have been unprecedented and it is reassuring to know that those efforts were recognized and will continue to benefit all sagebrush dependent species.”

“Thriving sage grouse populations are an indicator that sagebrush ecosystems are healthy, and this is important for more than 350 species of plants and animals. These sagebrush habitats are particularly important for our mule deer and the conservation efforts undertaken by the Sage Grouse Initiative, federal land management agencies, state fish and wildlife agencies, and hundreds of other partners are definitely making a difference,” noted Miles Moretti, president and CEO of the Mule Deer Foundation. “However our work is not done – we must ensure that all the conservation efforts that have been set in motion do not come to a screeching halt because the threat of an ESA listing is no longer hanging over our heads.”

“Colorado has been at the forefront of implementing locally-tailored sage grouse preservation efforts, and a federal ESA listing would have jeopardized those efforts. The work being done at the state, local and federal level, which includes voluntary conservation and species protection on the part of landowners and government, is having a positive impact. We have heard abundant testimony from scientific and conservation experts that these locally-tailored plans are far more effective for species preservation than a one-size-fits-all federal approach. Unfortunately, the ‘not warranted’ decision is expected to be accompanied by the signing of the final federal land use plan amendments, which will still jeopardize this local preservation approach. These amendments will severely restrict ranching, recreation and energy and minerals development, including a likely mineral withdrawal of between 9-10 million acres, all of which will be devastating to local economies. While the ‘not warranted’ decision is welcome, the implementation of equally oppressive land use plans, which do nothing to improve on the work already being done locally to preserve the grouse, still leaves Colorado and other Western communities in a worrisome situation.”



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