Nevada wins grouse listing battle, but still faces land use restrictions

This past week Interior Secretary Sally Jewell declared that the greater sage grouse will not be listed under the Endangered Species Act, but instead created a federal land use plan so restrictive that the lack of listing became a distinction without a difference.

“Our review of the best available scientific and commercial information indicates that the sage grouse is not in danger of extinction nor likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future throughout all of its range,” the Fish and Wildlife Service, a division of the Interior, concluded in its 341-page announcement. The document cited a rangewide decline in grouse over the past century, while conceding a count of male grouse in leks showed a 63 percent increase in the past two years.

Instead of listing, to protect sage grouse Fish and Wildlife withdrew 10 million acres from future mining claims, prohibited oil and gas drilling near breeding grounds and imposed new reviews on grazing permits.

The cactus huggers still had a conniption. John Horning, executive director of WildEarth Guardians, spewed, “That is the great tragedy of the day, that this decision would be based on politics not science,” adding that his group will challenge the listing decision in federal court.

Elko and Eureka counties and two mining companies beat them to the courthouse door, filing suit in federal court in Reno the next day, calling the plan “arbitrary, capricious and unlawful.” Elko estimated the plan would cost its economy $31 million a year. Eureka estimated the cost to its livestock industry alone would be $7 million to $15 million a year.

Rep. Crescent Hardy sent out a press release putting the decision into perspective, noting that the good news about listing comes with hard to swallow restrictions.

“I was very disappointed to learn of the Department of Interior’s decision to aggressively advance an agenda that puts the interests of a small contingent of environmental extremists over those of rural Nevada’s hardworking families,” Hardy said. “Today’s announcement confirms this was never fully about protecting any particular species.”

The congressman continued, “This is yet another stark reminder of the challenges Western states like Nevada face when the federal government controls so much of the land within our borders. … Without access to traditional land uses in Nevada — mineral exploration, energy extraction, and ranching — states like Nevada wouldn’t be what they are today. This policy not only disregards our historic way of life, but it also threatens the local economies of some of the hardest hit areas from the Great Recession.”

Nevada’s junior Sen. Dean Heller agreed with Hardy’s dire assessment, saying the regulations that will limit the use of millions of acres of federal land, much of that in Nevada.

“This is not a win for Nevada. Even though the Fish and Wildlife Service has decided the greater sage grouse doesn’t merit protections under the Endangered Species Act, the Department of the Interior’s final ‘federal plans’ pose major threats to many Nevadans’ long-term way of life and success,” Heller concluded.

“This has been an issue of the Department of the Interior using the threat of a listing to get what it really wanted all along: limiting Nevadans’ access to millions of acres of land equal to the size of the state of West Virginia,” the senator said.

Instead of addressing the real threats to grouse habitat — wildfire, invasive species, and wild horse and burro mismanagement — new regulations simply restrict Nevadans’ beneficial access to public lands, Heller noted.

A spokesman for Rep. Mark Amodei said he had nothing new to say at this time, but reiterated what he told the Reno newspaper a month ago, when he said economic development will be strangled across some 3 million acres of Northern Nevada.

“It’s an exclusion zone, you can’t do anything,” Amodei told the Reno Gazette-Journal’s editorial board. “It doesn’t matter if it’s listed or not. Now it’s the regulatory standard across the West.”

The ever irrelevant and clueless Harry Reid poked Nevadans in the eye with this nonsense: “This conservation not only protects the sage grouse, it also protects our rangelands, our mule deer and pronghorn antelope habitat and our western way of life. I look forward to continued cooperation between the federal agencies, states and local governments on implementing the sage grouse management plans and making sure that the sage grouse can thrive alongside our western economies.”

Cooperation? Thrive?

Nevada’s success in avoiding the listing of the sage grouse turned out to be a hollow victory.

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

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