Nevada has every reason to feel like a slighted wallflower. We keep getting invited to the big sage grouse dance, but never get asked to dance.
Gov. Brian Sandoval and Attorney Adam Laxalt and others have complained bitterly that state and local input on how to protect the sage grouse population and still conduct economically productive endeavors on the land the birds occupy have been roundly and almost universally ignored by the federal land agencies.
A lawsuit filed by Laxalt on behalf of the state, several counties, a couple of mining firms and the owners of a ranch against the Interior Department, the Bureau of Land Management and others used a variant of the word “ignore” 22 times to describe how state and local objections to land use plans were received. In fact a motion filed by the state in that suit points out that after dismissing local input three top Interior Department officials met privately, after the public comment period was closed, with environmental groups to obtain their “buy-in” on a land use plan.
So, pardon us if we scoff at the cheery BLM press release from this past week under the headline: “Collaboration the key to Sage Grouse success.”
The press release announced the creation of Nevada-based working groups comprised of federal and state agencies and key stakeholders “to identify regulatory flexibility and improve communication and outreach between themselves and the public.”
The working groups resulted from a two-and-a-half day workshop in Reno in early December.
“A key part of the workshop was the emphasis on establishing and improving relationships between the agencies and stakeholders, “ said John Ruhs, state director for the BLM in Nevada. “We also spent time getting to know people as individuals as opposed to just identifying them by their interest or agency.”
He was further quoted as saying, “In the case of the amendments for the Greater sage grouse plans in Nevada, a collaborative network of local, state and federal partners is essential for protecting the sagebrush ecosystem while ensuring multiple uses.”
Though Ruhs has a reputation for being a straight shooter — he brokered a deal that allowed Battle Mountain district ranchers to temporarily continue grazing after permits had been denied — he does answer to the federal land bosses in Washington, from whence just two weeks ago came a proposal to ban mining on 10 million acres in the West — a quarter of that in Nevada alone and most of that in Elko County — to protect sage grouse.
Sandoval fired off a retort saying, “Today’s announcement does nothing to protect the greater sage-grouse, but does cripple the mining and exploration industry. It is an unfortunate end to our collaborative efforts with this administration. I am hopeful the new administration will consider the limited ecological benefits of this withdrawal.”
Now senior Nevada U.S. Sen. Dean Heller called the ban an 11th-hour attack on the West by a lame duck president.
“Federal land grabs are never popular in Nevada and the latest one by the BLM is no different. A mining ban does little to help sage grouse and will devastate northern Nevada’s future economic competitiveness,” Heller said in a press release. “I will partner with the next administration to reverse this decision and to ensure the BLM focuses on the real threats to sage grouse, like wildfires, instead of locking up Nevadans’ public lands. Those are the types of efforts, rather than these harmful mining bans, that will benefit our environment while also allowing our economy to grow,”
Nevadans can only hope that with the changes coming in Washington these working groups might actually be listened to.
National BLM Director Neil Kornze — a former aide to Nevada Sen. Harry “Lock Up the Land and Throw Away the Key” Reid — has announced he is stepping down on Jan. 20, the day Donald Trump is inaugurated president.
Trump, meanwhile, has nominated Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke, who grew up in a logging town, to head the Interior Department.
That BLM press release announcing the working groups quotes JJ Goicoechea, chairman of the Nevada Sagebrush Ecosystem Council, as saying, “While this process was just the beginning, there was a collective recognition of key issues to address and an overall feeling that if we don’t collaboratively work toward solutions, we will fail individually.”
Perhaps, with a different band in Washington playing a different tune, Nevada will finally get to dance. — TM