Let states continue efforts to protect sage grouse without the burden of listing them as threatened

Perhaps there is still hope that aggressive conservation and mitigation efforts by Nevada and the 10 other states where greater sage grouse range can stave off a listing of the ground-dwelling birds under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), a decision that would have an economic impact on mining, agriculture, logging, oil and gas exploration, rights of way, electricity transmission lines and recreation.

The latest ray of hope comes from a decision by the Interior and Agriculture departments this past week to withdraw a proposal to list the bi-state sage grouse under ESA. In October the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to designate as threatened the distinct sage grouse population found along the northern California-Nevada border.

The original plan was to set aside nearly 1.9 million acres in Carson City, Lyon, Douglas, Mineral and Esmeralda counties in Nevada, as well as land in Alpine, Mono and Inyo counties in California, as critical habitat for the remaining 5,000 or so bi-state sage grouse.

Fish and Wildlife opened a comment period and then extended it when evidence came in that the bi-state grouse population was healthier than first reported.

The deadline for a decision on the bi-state grouse was April 28. The deadline for a decision on the greater sage grouse is September of this year.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell credited the decision to relent on listing the bi-state grouse to local efforts to preserve habit and limit impact. “What’s more, the collaborative, science-based efforts in Nevada and California are proof that we can conserve sagebrush habitat across the West while we encourage sustainable economic development,” Jewell was quoted as saying in a press release.

Gov. Brian Sandoval said the “announcement highlights the critical partnerships that must exist for our conservation strategies to be effective and demonstrate that sage grouse and economic development can coexist in both the bi-state area and across the range of the greater sage grouse.”

When Sandoval makes the argument to not list the greater sage grouse he now has a 30-page “Sage-Grouse Inventory” published in March by the Western Governor’s Association listing various conservation efforts taking place in Nevada, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming to slap down on the table.

The inventory shows Sandoval has included $5.1 million in his fiscal year 2015-17 budget for sage grouse conservation efforts. Additionally, the Nevada Mining Association members have developed habitat conservation plans on 1.2 million acres.

Companies such as Noble Energy, which is exploring for oil and gas in Elko County, and other such companies are voluntarily restricting operations in ways that promote conservation.

Nevada’s Sagebrush Ecosystem Council has been meeting regularly for several years, working on implementing and building upon recommendations from the Governor’s Sage-Grouse Advisory Committee. Various state agencies have spent over $7.4 million since 2012 on greater sage grouse conservation.

Elko County alone has spent more than $100,000 “to provide greater sage grouse management, conservation, preservation and rehabilitation measures, strategies and funding sources to … benefit sage-grouse without the loss of the county’s heritage, culture and economy.” None of that was federal money.

Efforts are being made across the West to fight the encroachment on sagebrush range by pinyon and juniper, which should require little more than a herd of goats, a few chainsaws or brush hogs.

Earlier this month lawmakers in Carson City were pressing forward with Assembly Joint Resolution No. 2, which would address one of the major causes of sage grouse population declines. The resolution asks Congress to remove or alter protections under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 for the common raven. Raven populations have exploded across the West because development of power lines and fences and pinyon and juniper give the birds higher perches from which to spy and attack sage grouse nests to eat the eggs.

“A known cause of decline in the sage grouse population is egg depredation by the common raven, and research conducted at Idaho State University has suggested that reductions in the raven population significantly increase sage grouse nest success,” AJR2 reads in part

Sen. Pete Goicoechea, a Eureka Republican, said federal agencies permit killing a few ravens but not nearly enough.

Perhaps, all those coordinated efforts will sway Interior to give conservation efforts a chance.

Thomas Mitchell is a longtime Nevada newspaper columnist. You may email him at thomasmnv@yahoo.com. He also blogs at http://4thst8.wordpress.com/.

Comments

  1. AHHH. Federal Government recognizing a serious problem and then, only under the requirements imposed by the Feds the States decide they need to act. No actual “conservation” initiatives by the State until they were forced to do so by the DOI. That’s OKI…that is kind of the way it can work. Mesquite/Bunkerville could learn a lot from the realization in the North that they can either work WITH the Federal Agencies whose job it is to protect the public lands and species that inhabit them OR the Federal Government will move forward with “other” methods to do their job on behalf of ther American Public. Mesquite has, instead decided to follow the Cliven Bundy method of working with the government – defying every government action as “overreach” and refusing to comply and even refusing to “even recognize that the Federal Government exists” or has any ownership of Federal lands – an extreme and unsupportable a claim that has been thrown out by every court where it has been made. And now, in a bow to Bundyesque governing principles, three members of the Mesquite City Council decided to align the City with Bundy and passed a resolution in support of cutting the protected area in half (thanks to Kraig Hafens slippery plan) and to also support allowing motorized vehicles to wander anywhere they want on federal Lands without ANY restrictions. I can see it now—-Rednecks seeing how high they can drive their ATV’s up the face of the petroglyphs ….free beer to the winner. What a JOKE! To same people who actually care about the preservation of public lands this action by 3 anti-government ideologues simply verifies and validates the necessity for public lands to remain under the control of Federal Agencies instead of to misguided local bodies who are often dominated by people who have absolutely no capability to understand anything other than their own greedy wants and their own foolish ideology that says “anyone should be able to do anything they want on Public lands, including the continuation of the illegal actions of “brother” Cliven Bundy. The statements made by these folks are laughable. Congressman Cresent Hardy (Bundy’s neighbor) states how well the cows and the desert tortoise co-exist! Of course the actual scientists who study this show that the Desert Tortoise population has been diminished by 90% since the 1950’s (interestingly the same time when Bundy started “grazing cattle there”). I guess a 90% reduction by one species somehow shows how well they co-exist? Only in the mind of an ignorant,uneducated redneck who simply wants to use the public lands for his own profits. Thank goodness for ownership and management by the DOI/BLM. Now they need to enforce the laws better, even in the face of terrorist groups (and now the Mesquite City Council) supporting Bundy.

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