Letters from the West

Jewell says grouse rider won't stop BLM, state plans

Wildlife advocates say delaying protections for greater sage grouse, seen above southwest of Rawlins, Wyo., could have irreversible impacts across the bird’s 11-state range.
Wildlife advocates say delaying protections for greater sage grouse, seen above southwest of Rawlins, Wyo., could have irreversible impacts across the bird’s 11-state range. The Associated Press file

A rider that delays a final listing decision for sage grouse across 11 western states won’t efforts to put in place state and federal plans to protect the bird, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said Wednesday.

Jewel said the rider in the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act won’t stop effortds to continue working with ranchers, the states and energy companies to develop conservation plans to reduce the threat of wildfire and invasive species invasion that protect the birds and allow economic activities to continue.

“It’s disappointing that some members of Congress are more interested in political posturing than finding solutions to conserve the sagebrush landscape and the Western way of life,” Jewell said. “Rather than helping the communities they profess to benefit, these members will only create uncertainty, encourage conflict and undermine the unprecedented progress that is happening throughout the West.”

The Obama administration faced a September 2015 deadline to determine whether to add new protection for sage grouse under a court-approved settlement with environmental groups. In 2010, federal biologists said protections were warranted for greater sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act. But the Fish and Wildlife Service didn't impose them, citing other priorities and a shortage of funds.

Idaho, led by Gov. Butch Otter, developed its own conservation plans, meant to conserve sagebrush habitat, while allowing development and livestock grazing to continue. It has been incorporated into the environmental analysis of the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service as a co-preferred alternative for its regional sage grouse plan, which is scheduled to be completed in 2015.

Republican Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, said the delay will give Idahoans and other residents of Western states more time to develop a collaborative sage grouse plan. “By delaying the listing decision, we can provide the BLM with time to do the job right,” he said.

Jewell said the rider has no impact on the BLM planning schedule and won’t stop the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from collecting data to determine whether listing the bird under the federal Endangered Species Act is warranted or not.

“The Obama Administration is still moving full steam ahead, and will continue to work with urgency alongside our federal, state and local partners to put conservation measures in place to protect important sagebrush habitat and avert the need to list the greater sage-grouse,” Jewell said.

“We are more determined than ever to work with the states, ranchers, energy developers and other stakeholders who are putting effective conservation measures in place with the shared goal of reaching a ‘not warranted’ determination by the end of the fiscal year, ” she said.

Will Whelan of The Nature Conservancy of Idaho, has worked closely with Otter and his many partners on the state plan. Those efforts continue, he said because it remains important for all sides.

"The Idaho Plan lays out a road map for saving sage grouse and underscores the importance of acting now," Whelan said. "It was developed and supported by a range of conservation, sporting, local government, and industry groups."