‘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 Catalin
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Michael Catalin
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 »
TO VISIT US TROOPS
John McCain Paid Secret Visit To Syria
35 minutes ago
THE DETAILS

Senator John McCain paid a secret visit to Northern Syria over the weekend during his trip abroad. McCain reportedly went "to speak with American officials and Kurdish fighters leading the charge to push ISIS militants out of Raqqa, the jihadist group’s stronghold." The trip was organized with the help of U.S. military.

Source:
‘MORE WITH LESS’
Trump Budget to Call for Major Cuts
1 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"The Trump administration will deliver its first budget to Congress in mid-March, and the president confirmed Wednesday it will contain major cuts for federal agencies." The blueprint, expected to be released in mid-March, will not include the kinds of specifics usually seen in White House budgets, but rather will instruct the heads of agencies to "do more with less."

Source:
DEFERENCE TO PRESIDENT
More Republicans Trust Trump than GOP Members
2 hours ago
WHY WE CARE
PAC WILL TARGET INCUMBENTS
Sanders Acolytes Taking the Movement Local
4 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

"While Democrats nationwide have put the focus on President Trump, the Sanders wing of the party has engaged in an intramural fight to remake the party in a more populist, liberal mold." From Washington state to California to Florida, Sanders loyalists are making good on their promise to remake the party from the ground up. And just last week, a "group of former Sanders campaign aides launched a super PAC with the explicit goal of mounting primary challenges to Democratic incumbents."

Source:
THANKS TO MILITARY ROLE
McMaster Requires Congressional Approval
5 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Congress will need to vote on Donald Trump's pick of Lt. General H.R. McMaster to be his next national security adviser, but not for the reason you think. The position of NSA doesn't require Senate approval, but since McMaster currently holds a three-star military position, Congress will need to vote to allow him to keep his position instead of forcing him to drop one star and become a Major General, which could potentially affect his pension.

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login