Feds and States spar over Sage Grouse- 165 Million Acres

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Here’s the article.

It’s kind of interesting to compare these efforts with the spotted owl in the Northwest. One contrast is that the policy context for energy development is different from that for timber. We get timber from our friendly neighbor to the north when we don’t produce it ourselves- energy.. not so much. No one argues that there is not a market for energy, and that it employs people as does ranching and home development. It just seems to me that all economic activities have some environmental effects (my example is growing marijuana). But groups with certain policy agendas use ESA as a tool to move offshore certain activities in certain places and not others. It seems that these activities mostly deal with resource use in rural (undeveloped) areas. As a humble retiree and policy wonk, and not a constitutional scholar, what I don’t like about this is whenever we argue that “we need to override the wishes of local people as expressed through their elected officials” it needs to be compelling, have social and economic justice in mind and treat locals and states as respected partners.

Here are a couple of quotes:

But grouse have dwindled rapidly since 1985 to an estimated 200,000 to 500,000 — victims of agricultural, housing and industrial development. That decline triggers, under the Endangered Species Act, a federal rescue to avert extinction on the 165 million acres where grouse have survived.

Speaking of Colorado and Wyoming, where I used to drive around for work, I didn’t see “new” agricultural development around where I go since 1985.. most of the intermountai west seems to have agriculture only if watered, and water rights go way back. Maybe someone can help with that. Seems like folks have been grazing for a long time. Housing development also seems spottily distributed throughout the area.

The oil and gas industry and private landowners, who control 56 percent of the 4.1-million acres of the greater grouse habitat in Colorado, prefer state-led protection, if any. Oil and gas companies hold rights to drill on much of the Colorado habitat.

Such is the fear and uncertainty around possible federal action that some northwestern Colorado ranchers are rushing to kill sagebrush using herbicides — trying to avoid anticipated restrictions. A rigid crackdown “is everybody’s fear,” said Craig-area rancher Wes McStay, a longtime leader of voluntary sagebrush conservation, who called the destruction by others counterproductive.

On a recent morning amid the herbaceous scent of sage, 154 grouse strutted around a field on McStay’s land, which contains the largest concentration of the estimated 20,000 grouse in Colorado.

That’s the result of shielding “lek” breeding areas, reducing cattle grazing on sagebrush and rotating crops to help grouse. McStay has invited Colorado State University researchers to work with him. He uses a plow to thin mature sagebrush and spur growth. He recently teamed with state biologists to put tracking collars on two birds.

He’s also talking with the Nature Conservancy about an easement that could pay him to give up development rights.

“What’s a federal listing going to solve? All we really want is good management, and a listing is not going to make that happen,” McStay said.

“I’m kind of an environmentalist at heart. I lean that way. But people here have got to be able to make a living on the land.”

Or not?

“We know things are going in the wrong direction. The sage grouse, the sagebrush system, is in trouble. And it is not just sage grouse,” Fish and Wildlife director Walsh said. “What is also at stake is habitat for the mule deer, pronghorn and elk — very important to sportsmen and actually quite an economic driver for the states.

It seems to me that mulies and elk are at least mildly compatible with development- as I see them in the hood where I live regularly. But I think people (especially federal officials) should be clear on whether it’s really about the sage grouse.. or really about something else.

Here’s another article about this..

Travis Bruner, executive director of the Western Watersheds Project, struck a similar tone and questioned whether the program has led to “further subsidization of the livestock industry.”

“Sage grouse habitat on public lands should be given more priority,” he said.

An estimated 31 percent of sage grouse habitat is on private land, and Weller said enlisting landowners was critical. “At the end of the day, you could invest significant money in public lands and never move the needle,” he said.

One Comment

  1. Sharon said: “As a humble retiree and policy wonk, and not a constitutional scholar, what I don’t like about this is whenever we argue that “we need to override the wishes of local people as expressed through their elected officials” it needs to be compelling, have social and economic justice in mind and treat locals and states as respected partners.”

    Yes, this would be much simpler if there no federal Constitution (or government) or laws that don’t say what we’d like them to say. Here is a pretty good summary of what Colorado would look like (from the same article):

    “This governor’s not particularly interested in doing anything to shut down the oil and gas industry,” assistant director of natural resources Lisa Dale said. Oil and gas companies, because they must consult with state wildlife officials, voluntarily cooperate to minimize harm in most cases, Dale said. “We’ve been making the case that these voluntary measures have the durability of regulatory measures.” And changing state rules can take years, she added. (I’m sorry, voluntary = regulatory?)

    Federal negotiators also seek controls over sprawl, with housing units increasing by about 3.2 percent a year on Colorado grouse habitat. But state officials can only advise counties to control growth, Dale said. “Beyond that, the state doesn’t have any regulatory authority.” (‘Advice’ = regulatory?)

    Sharon also said: “But I think people (especially federal officials) should be clear on whether it’s really about the sage grouse.. or really about something else.”

    Questioning motives is not usually constructive. With regard to the federal officials it’s about following the law (or maybe following the politics within the confines of the law). I’m sure you know that can cut both ways. Here’s an old story about how the Endangered Species Act was used to save small farmers (until Congress decided otherwise): http://www.redandblack.com/uganews/zygmunt-plater-recalls-historic-snail-darter-case/article_d0414780-e0af-11e4-bc78-c7c7ca792e27.html

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