Letters from the West

Sage grouse decisions expected soon

The biggest wildlife issue in the West is going to come to a head this month and you can expect the rhetoric and debate to pick up in the next few weeks.

Congress has several provisions in its budgets designed to handcuff federal agencies so they don’t take any action that might affect energy development or livestock grazing. Several would put federal land decisions in the hands of the states or would delay a decision on listing sage grouse for up to a decade.

In the end they will need President Obama’s signature on any of these and I doubt if they will get that in time to prevent his administration to take what conservation groups say may be the biggest wildlife conservation initiative of his presidency.

Sometime between now and Sept. 24 the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service are going to finalize plans for balancing development and protecting sage grouse on more than 50 million acres in 10 states including Idaho.

This will happen no matter what Congress does and will lay the groundwork for the decision the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will make about the status of sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act later this month.

I have written about the values of the sagebrush steppe ecosystem previously but Friday I will go into more detail about why we should care about the fate of the bird.