Interior Secretary Sally Jewell came to Nevada earlier this month and told a meeting of Western governors in Las Vegas that her department’s goal is to find ways to protect the greater sage grouse without resorting to listing the bird under the Endangered Species Act.
“We want to create an environment where a listing is not warranted,” Jewell was quoted as saying by the Las Vegas newspaper. “So we’re all working with that common objective. … It truly is epic collaboration. It’s not just the sage grouse that’s at stake. It’s the Western way of life that’s at stake.”
Rep. Mark Amodei had already attached a rider to the congressional spending budget that prohibits for one year the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a division of Interior, from listing the sage grouse, thus blocking a federal court decree that required the agency to make a determination by September 2015.
The people who count, the ones who invest their money in developing profitable uses on public and private land in Nevada, aren’t buying it.
Days after Jewell’s speech, the Bureau of Land Management attempted to auction off 97 tracts of federal public land for oil and natural gas drilling leases. The agency received no bids on 96 tracts and only the minimum bid of $2 an acre on a single 473-acre tract in Nye County, according to an Associated Press account. That was before the price of oil tanked.
Patricia LaFramboise, chief of BLM’s minerals adjudication branch, told the AP the main reason oil and gas drillers are balking is concern over the likely listing of the greater sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act.
“Sage grouse is a huge issue here. We’ve removed a lot of the parcels for sale until the Fish and Wildlife Service makes its decision,” LaFramboise said at the time. “The areas of interest have some serious environmental impacts.”
Instead of leasing 186,000 acres of federal public land from Austin to the Utah border and creating jobs and economic benefits in dozens of rural communities, the land will lie fallow.
It probably did not help that just a few weeks earlier the U.S. Geological Survey came out with a report recommending a buffer zone devoid of most human activity within 3.1 miles of any sage grouse lek, as nesting grounds are called, an area of 30 square miles. The distance was chosen because that is where most of the grouse are located, not because any human activity was proven harmful to the birds. That was presumed.
Neither did it help that in early November Fish and Wildlife listed the Gunnison sage grouse as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, stunning officials in Colorado and Utah who thought there “truly is epic collaboration” with federal officials to protect the bird and they were being successful.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper told the Denver Post the decision was discouraging and that it “complicates our good-faith efforts to work with local stakeholders on locally driven approaches.”
The mere threat of federal listing of greater sage grouse — which seems all the more likely with every action every day — is already stifling economic activity.
Amodei succinctly noted, “I am unaware of the fact-based foundation for Interior’s drawing lines on maps and focusing on human activity when in our part of the country the threats are wildland fire and invasive species. If it is really about the habitat, the preoccupation with 15 percent of the threat while ignoring the other 85 percent is yet another example of forwarding political agendas ahead of dealing with environmental facts and solving the resource problem.”
Congress should repeal the Endangered Species Act currently on the books and start all over with something more reasonable and based on scientific fact instead of speculation and supposition from so-called environmentalists with a herd of stampeding lawyers. — TM