The Saga of Sage Grouse : Blue Gov vs. Feds

gunnison sage grouse

With all the partisan mud-slinging of the past months, it’s nice to have your delegation all together.
The story is that folks in D controlled (Hickenlooper) state of Colorado have been working assiduously to avoid listing.

Here’s the Denver Post editorial:

OPINION
Gunnison sage grouse listing snubs local efforts
By The Denver Post Editorial Board

It’s unfortunate the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service felt obliged to list the Gunnison sage grouse this week as a threatened species — unfortunate because it is unnecessary and because state and local officials have worked hard to avoid the listing through aggressive measures to protect the bird.

Indeed, Fish & Wildlife acknowledges the bird’s population in the Gunnison Basin, where over 84 percent of them reside, has been relatively stable over a number of years. And agency officials praise land-use and other measures in Gunnison County — so much so that they do not foresee imposing additionial requirements there on the grouse’s behalf.

What concerns the agency are six, smaller satellite populations, several of which have declined. Since the overall number of the Gunnison sage grouse, at 4,007, is relatively small, the agency worries that it can’t afford the loss of any of the satellite populations if the bird is to survive. “Multiple stable populations across a broad geographic area provide for population redundancy and resiliency necessary for the species’ survival,” its FAQ sheet argues.

Fair enough. But state and county officials and private landowners have not exactly been sitting on their hands in those arenas, either. They’ve been working to increase formal protection against habitat disturbances there as well. And their request for a delay in the federal listing decision so they could install additional conservation measures was supported by Democratic Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, as well as Republican Rep. Scott Tipton.

Ironically, according to the state, as recently as this summer a draft document by Fish & Wildlife recommended concentrating resources on four of the six satellite populations, as opposed to all six.

Gov. John Hickenlooper called the listing a “major blow to voluntary conservation efforts” that “complicates our good faith efforts to work with local stakeholders on locally driven approaches.”

And that is the biggest reason to regret the federal listing. While it’s hard to see how it will do much to enhance actual prospects for the sage grouse, it could end up slowing progress in protecting habitat for other species.

Hmm this raises some interesting questions.. would the NY Times, W Post LA Times or so on, editorial boards even address a question like this?

When the southern Cal forests did not (dot every i and cross every t) in working with the State, they had to go back to the drawing board based on litigation. Is that a difference in the requirements of NFMA compared to ESA? Or ?. What should the role of states be in ESA on private or public lands?

From this articles it looks as if the State might sue

Colorado blitzed the federal government, urging a delay of a court-ordered decision on whether to protect the imperiled Gunnison sage grouse.

Federal biologists since 2010 have said Gunnison grouse need endangered-species protection to prevent extinction.

But Colorado leaders on Monday proposed multiple new voluntary measures — such as possibly relocating a road used for oil and gas drilling — as the basis for extending a Wednesday deadline for legally binding federal protection.

Gov. John Hickenlooper said Colorado will sue if U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director Dan Ashe moves ahead on the feds’ proposal to list grouse as endangered or threatened.

I’d be interested in whether and how this story is covered in the major coastal media outlets.

3 Comments

  1. “Is that a difference in the requirements of NFMA compared to ESA? Or ?.” Yes, there is a difference in requirements. “What should the role of states be in ESA on private or public lands?” That is defined by ESA.

    The state role in Forest Service Planning is defined in the planning regulations. The California lawsuit was based on the 1982 regulatory requirement for the FS to “review the planning and land use policies” of state governments and “The results of this review shall be displayed in the environmental impact statement …” (There is a similar requirement in the 2012 Planning Rule.) The court held, “The failure to provide any discussion of input from the State, or at least of the State’s failure to fully engage in the planning process, was a violation of the NFMA. This is more than a merely technical violation, as it significantly inhibits the public’s ability to understand the competing priorities of the Forest Service and the State.”

    The state role in ESA listing decisions is found in two places in the law. One is a requirement to take into account “those efforts, if any, being made by any State or foreign nation, or any political subdivision of a State of foreign nation.” The listing agencies have developed a Policy for Evaluation of Conservation Efforts (PECE) for new efforts with no track record that evaluates their certainty of occurrence and effectiveness.

    From the listing decision: “However, the identified conservation efforts, taken individually and in combination, do not fully address the substantial threats of rangewide habitat decline (Factor A), small population size and structure (Factor E), drought (Factor E), climate change (Factor A), and disease (Factor C). The Gunnison Basin CCA provides some protection for Gunnison sage-grouse on Federal lands in the Gunnison Basin, but does not cover the remaining, more vulnerable satellite populations. Similarly, the existing CCAA benefits Gunnison sage-grouse, but does not provide sufficient coverage of the species’ range to ensure the species’ long-term conservation. Based on their voluntary nature and track records, the RCP, local working group plans, and other conservation efforts are not effective at reducing the threats acting on the species to the point where listing the species is not warranted.” (p. 321.) The main threat appears to be housing developments in parts of the range, and lack of assurance that they be regulated in remaining habitat.

    One of the five required listing factors is the adequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms. State and local laws and regulations must be considered here, as well as forest plans and BLM plans. Here is the conclusion from the listing decision. “Existing conservation easements provide a level of protection from future development on these lands, but are limited in geographic scope such that they do not adequately address the threat of habitat loss across the species’ range. State wildlife regulations provide protection for individual Gunnison sage-grouse from direct mortality due to hunting but do not address habitat loss and other threats such as drought, climate change, or disease. While the COGCC regulations discussed above provide some protection and mitigation (as defined by COGCC, not the Service) for loss of Gunnison sage-grouse habitat, they do not prevent ongoing habitat loss and fragmentation (Factor A).”

    There is a lesson here for Forest Service plans (which reminds me of the situation for lynx and bull trout when they were listed). “Protections afforded to Gunnison sage-grouse vary by agency and field office or unit, but many of these protections are discretionary or undertaken on a voluntary basis rather than required by a regulatory mechanism. BLM’s land use management plans are regulatory mechanisms, but for the most part do not currently include requirements directed at sage-grouse conservation. This will likely change in the future, as a result of the ongoing revision process for some RMPs in the species’ range and the planned rangewide RMP Amendment to address sage-grouse threats. Nonetheless, we do not know at this time what conservation measures will be included in these future RMPs or the degree to which they may address threats to the species. As a result, we do not consider or rely on these future planning efforts in this rule. BLM’s 2014 IM for 420 Gunnison sage-grouse in Colorado provides a more consistent foundation for the management and conservation of the species on BLM land in Colorado, but it is a temporary measure and is not a binding regulatory mechanism.

    • Thank you so much, Jon! That’s the clearest explanation I’ve heard.

      Just wanted to add that when we had a joint RMP/Forest Plan we had to visit the state (the DNR director was Harris Sherman at the time), so they had some role in BLM RMP’s that they don’t in FS plans. It seemed like a useful exercise to me when we did it. ESA is indeed the largest, and in some cases, the least rational of levers.

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