Last week I posted that the Denver Post is going through some hard times. Last Sunday, the entire opinion page was composed of different columnists stressing the importance of, and basically asking for someone to buy the paper. So that is the context for this piece on sage grouse, an op-ed published by the Post by its former editorial editor Vincent Carroll. If I were a paranoid person, I might think that the Russians were behind this, so that middle stories in Purple States would not get told and our country would get further divided.
He starts with what’s out there in the news:
The stock story line goes as follows: The Obama-era plans were the culmination of a careful compromise representing years of negotiations that satisfied a national task force of stakeholders from government, conservation, sporting and extraction interests. What possible reason could Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke have for reopening the process other than to kowtow to energy, mining and agricultural lobbies?
Note that even the photo caption (!) from the AP, above even carries that message.
But here’s what a person working on it for the State says (note that Colorado has a D Governor)- and as is so often the case, the truth is more complicated than the standard narrative but that requires asking the question, talking to people, and having a place to publish the “other side” of the story.
As it happens, the truth is more complicated. Many state and local officials throughout the West who did indeed collaborate with federal officials in devising sage-grouse protection plans were profoundly dismayed by last-minute additions made in 2015 by federal officials. Even those now warning against wholesale changes to the Bureau of Land Management plans, such as Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, weren’t happy.
“We fought back on a couple of things,” says John Swartout, who coordinates Colorado’s efforts on behalf of the sage grouse. “One was this idea of ‘no surface occupancy’ (in priority habitat regions). It may make sense to limit surface occupation but in the Piceance Basin, for example, there are deep ravines, so if an oil or gas rig is down in the ravine and the birds are off on the plateau you’re actually not disturbing the birds at all. We drew up our plan to accommodate terrain features; the idea was to avoid disturbing sage grouse habitat, but to be smart about it.
“There is state, private land and federal land and all of us need to work together to make sure that if we push activities off federal land we aren’t pushing them onto private land where they could do more damage to sage grouse habitat,” he said. “We tried to look at it holistically and our plan reflected that. So it got to D.C. and they made a bunch of changes and they took some of that flexibility away from us.”
…… There are some other quotes of interest to the State/Federal responsibility question we’ve been discussing, and he ends with..
The greater sage grouse population is significantly smaller than it once was, but hundreds of thousands of the birds still reside in 11 states and, what is more important, those states in the past decade have poured unprecedented resources into preserving habitat and tackling problems such as invasive plant species, fire and encroaching development. And with noticeable effect, too. The overall 2017 sage grouse count in Colorado, for example, was up 28 percent above the 10-year average (although favorable weather is clearly a factor).
Meanwhile, for those who relish the ironies of public policy, consider this: The sage grouse remains a legal game bird. Hundreds are “harvested” every year in Colorado, while Wyoming last year authorized nearly 5,000 hunters to slaughter 10,526 sage grouse.
If the sage grouse were truly facing extinction now or the foreseeable future — which the federal government in 2015 concluded was not the case — you’d think hunting would be one of the first things to go.