‘Chicken-Sized Bird’ Shows Why Conservationists Don’t Always Agree

Many are working against having the sage grouse listed as an endangered species.

Male greater sage-grouse struts to attract females at a lek (breeding or dancing ground) near Bodie, California in April.
National Journal
Michael Catalini
June 1, 2014, 7:08 a.m.

When it comes to the sage grouse — a spiky-tailed bird once de­scribed as a cross between a sumo wrest­ler and Elton John in camo — con­ser­va­tion­ists agree on a lot, like pro­tect­ing the tens of mil­lions of acres it in­hab­its in the West and halt­ing the march of in­vas­ive spe­cies.

But, as the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment is weigh­ing wheth­er to list the birds un­der the En­dangered Spe­cies Act, not all con­ser­va­tion­ists want to see the U.S. Fish and Wild­life Ser­vice add the grouse to the rolls.

In­stead, con­ser­va­tion or­gan­iz­a­tions across 11 states ar­gue that by work­ing with miners, ranch­ers, state gov­ern­ments, and oth­ers who care about the bird — and the im­plic­a­tions of list­ing it as en­dangered — they can pre­serve sagebrush hab­it­at and help the sage grouse re­cov­er.

Oddly enough, many groups say their top goal is to avoid a list­ing.

“List­ing a spe­cies un­der the ESA is an ad­mis­sion of fail­ure,” said Kyle Dav­is, a con­sult­ant with the Nevada Con­ser­va­tion League and Wil­der­ness So­ci­ety in Nevada. “The hook is that we have this win­dow of op­por­tun­ity to do the right things now.”

The ex­act win­dow of op­por­tun­ity de­pends on which spe­cies of bird you’re talk­ing about. A de­cision on the great­er sage grouse, whose hab­it­at stretches across a huge swath of the West, cov­er­ing about 22 mil­lion acres and stretch­ing from the Dakotas in the east to Cali­for­nia in the west, from Montana in the north to Utah in the South (11 states in all), is ex­pec­ted in late 2015. The gov­ern­ment ex­pects a de­cision on a Nevada-Cali­for­nia spe­cies early next year, and an­oth­er spe­cies nat­ive to Col­or­ado, called the Gun­nison sage grouse, is ex­pec­ted later this year.

Re­gard­less of the spe­cies, though, con­ser­va­tion­ists say there’s ur­gency be­cause the birds are just one spe­cies af­fected by the de­struc­tion of the sagebrush steppe. The sage grouse, they say, is simply an in­dic­at­or of the hab­it­at and the wild­life in it.

“A chick­en-sized bird isn’t the most dy­nam­ic ral­ly­ing point,” said Luke Schafer of Con­ser­va­tion Col­or­ado. “But I would ar­gue “¦ the story isn’t the sage grouse. The story is the hab­it­at it lives in and everything else that lives there, in­clud­ing us.”

An­oth­er reas­on for avoid­ing a list­ing: If the gov­ern­ment goes for­ward, it’s un­clear what might hap­pen and what ap­proach fed­er­al of­fi­cials might take to con­serve the bird and its hab­it­at. That ex­plains why con­ser­va­tion­ists are sit­ting down with miners, nat­ur­al-gas com­pan­ies, ranch­ers, and state gov­ern­ments.

John Robison of the Idaho Con­ser­va­tion League poin­ted to the pos­sib­il­ity of un­cer­tainty about graz­ing fees, for ex­ample, if the grouse is lis­ted as en­dangered. “What we’re try­ing to do is provide cer­tainty for sage grouse and Idaho­ans,” Robison said.

That un­cer­tainty also gives con­ser­va­tion­ists at the state level an in­cent­ive to take the lead on form­ing plans to pro­tect the spe­cies.

“We were ini­tially skep­tic­al,” Robison said. “After par­ti­cip­at­ing in it for more than a year, we’re cau­tiously op­tim­ist­ic, and we think we can achieve a bet­ter out­come by work­ing to­geth­er pro­act­ively among all these part­ners than by re­spond­ing de­fens­ively to a list­ing de­cision.”

Some call it a simple mat­ter of pre­serving state and loc­al autonomy. For ex­ample, a loc­al work­ing group that formed in 2012 is fo­cused on pre­vent­ing a list­ing of the Nevada-Cali­for­nia bird, which dwells not far from Lake Tahoe. Mem­bers of the group took part at a fed­er­al pub­lic hear­ing just last week to make the case against a list­ing, ac­cord­ing to an of­fi­cial who at­ten­ded the event.

“It’s an im­port­ant part of the story,” said Ted Koch, the Nevada state su­per­visor for the U.S. Fish and Wild­life Ser­vice. “They are fo­cused on con­ser­va­tion and are “¦ con­cerned about los­ing con­trol over loc­al de­cisions.”

But not all con­ser­va­tion­ists want to avoid a list­ing. One fac­tion be­lieves, as Robison and Dav­is do, that loc­al plan­ning be­fore a list­ing provides a bet­ter op­por­tun­ity for con­ser­va­tion, while an­oth­er camp thinks the list­ing is what makes the dif­fer­ence.

The West­ern Wa­ter­sheds Pro­ject, for ex­ample, is in the lat­ter group. It felt the the vari­ous fed­er­al and re­gion­al plans were in­ad­equate, ob­ject­ing in par­tic­u­lar to pub­lic-lands graz­ing, which the state work­ing groups of­ten ac­com­mod­ate. Mark Salvo, now with De­fend­ers of Wild­life, who brought the ini­tial pe­ti­tion to list the grouse more than dec­ade ago and has been work­ing on the is­sue since, sees in­con­sist­en­cies in the pro­cess that state-level con­ser­va­tion­ists prefer.

“It’s funny, some­times the vari­ous fed­er­al agen­cies and the state work­ing groups will all claim that they’re work­ing to­geth­er when it comes to put­ting to­geth­er these strategies,” Salvo said. “But what emerges [is that] these plans are of­ten very dif­fer­ent, cer­tainly in­con­sist­ent con­ser­va­tion schemes.”

The dis­agree­ment over wheth­er to list might di­vide con­ser­va­tion­ists but those di­vi­sions don’t amount to much, they say. Ul­ti­mately, the goal is the same.

“There will al­ways be dif­fer­ence of opin­ion, but it isn’t a stick­ing point,” Schafer said. “Our fo­cus as a com­munity is on en­sur­ing con­ser­va­tion.”

What We're Following See More »
STAFF PICKS
When It Comes to Mining Asteroids, Technology Is Only the First Problem
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Foreign Policy takes a look at the future of mining the estimated "100,000 near-Earth objects—including asteroids and comets—in the neighborhood of our planet. Some of these NEOs, as they’re called, are small. Others are substantial and potentially packed full of water and various important minerals, such as nickel, cobalt, and iron. One day, advocates believe, those objects will be tapped by variations on the equipment used in the coal mines of Kentucky or in the diamond mines of Africa. And for immense gain: According to industry experts, the contents of a single asteroid could be worth trillions of dollars." But the technology to get us there is only the first step. Experts say "a multinational body might emerge" to manage rights to NEOs, as well as a body of law, including an international court.

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Obama Reflects on His Economic Record
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Not to be outdone by Jeffrey Goldberg's recent piece in The Atlantic about President Obama's foreign policy, the New York Times Magazine checks in with a longread on the president's economic legacy. In it, Obama is cognizant that the economic reality--73 straight months of growth--isn't matched by public perceptions. Some of that, he says, is due to a constant drumbeat from the right that "that denies any progress." But he also accepts some blame himself. “I mean, the truth of the matter is that if we had been able to more effectively communicate all the steps we had taken to the swing voter,” he said, “then we might have maintained a majority in the House or the Senate.”

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Reagan Families, Allies Lash Out at Will Ferrell
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Ronald Reagan's children and political allies took to the media and Twitter this week to chide funnyman Will Ferrell for his plans to play a dementia-addled Reagan in his second term in a new comedy entitled Reagan. In an open letter, Reagan's daughter Patti Davis tells Ferrell, who's also a producer on the movie, “Perhaps for your comedy you would like to visit some dementia facilities. I have—I didn’t find anything comedic there, and my hope would be that if you’re a decent human being, you wouldn’t either.” Michael Reagan, the president's son, tweeted, "What an Outrag....Alzheimers is not joke...It kills..You should be ashamed all of you." And former Rep. Joe Walsh called it an example of "Hollywood taking a shot at conservatives again."

Source:
PEAK CONFIDENCE
Clinton No Longer Running Primary Ads
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

In a sign that she’s ready to put a longer-than-ex­pec­ted primary battle be­hind her, former Sec­ret­ary of State Hil­lary Clin­ton (D) is no longer go­ing on the air in up­com­ing primary states. “Team Clin­ton hasn’t spent a single cent in … Cali­for­nia, In­di­ana, Ken­tucky, Ore­gon and West Vir­gin­ia, while” Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) “cam­paign has spent a little more than $1 mil­lion in those same states.” Meanwhile, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sanders’ "lone back­er in the Sen­ate, said the can­did­ate should end his pres­id­en­tial cam­paign if he’s los­ing to Hil­lary Clin­ton after the primary sea­son con­cludes in June, break­ing sharply with the can­did­ate who is vow­ing to take his in­sur­gent bid to the party con­ven­tion in Phil­adelphia.”

Source:
CITIZENS UNITED PT. 2?
Movie Based on ‘Clinton Cash’ to Debut at Cannes
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

The team behind the bestselling "Clinton Cash"—author Peter Schweizer and Breitbart's Stephen Bannon—is turning the book into a movie that will have its U.S. premiere just before the Democratic National Convention this summer. The film will get its global debut "next month in Cannes, France, during the Cannes Film Festival. (The movie is not a part of the festival, but will be shown at a screening arranged for distributors)." Bloomberg has a trailer up, pointing out that it's "less Ken Burns than Jerry Bruckheimer, featuring blood-drenched money, radical madrassas, and ominous footage of the Clintons."

Source:
×