Cheers, boos for Jewell’s sage grouse decision — WyoFile

Sage Grouse in winter photo via Middle Colorado Watershed Council
Sage Grouse in winter photo via Middle Colorado Watershed Council

From WyoFile (Angus M. Thuermer Jr.):

Speaking at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge in Commerce City, Colorado, Jewell hailed “the largest, most complex land conservation [effort] ever in the history of the United States of America, perhaps the world.” State, private and federal conservation plans ensure the imperiled bird’s survival, she said…

Love-fest at Colorado announcement
The love-fest announcement in Colorado included Gov. Matt Mead and three other western governors, U.S Fish and Wildlife Service director Dan Ashe and other officials. The decision that the greater sage grouse is no longer a candidate species for ESA protection drew criticism, too.

Federal and state plans “failed to adopt key conservation measures identified by the government’s own scientists and sage-grouse experts,” Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife, said in a statement. Those failures include no protection of winter habitat and no plan to address climate change.

Erik Molvar, wildlife biologist with WildEarth Guardians, said the grouse faces threats from industrial development and livestock grazing. “And now the Interior Department seems to be squandering a major opportunity to put science before politics and solve these problems,” he said in a statement. “Today Secretary Jewell declared victory before the battle is actually won. What came out the other end of the sausage grinder is a weak collection of compromises that will not and cannot conserve the species.”[…]

Another critical group, Western Watersheds Project, said Jewell “seemed determined to put a happy face on the future of the American West.” She did not make hard decisions to limit energy development, prohibit transmission lines and block spring cattle grazing, said Travis Bruner, executive director. “There is no ‘win’ here for sage-grouse,” he said in a statement. “There is only a slightly slower trajectory towards extinction.”

In Commerce City, however, officials detailed myriad changes since the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2010 determined regulations were insufficient to save the bird.

“We went to work with a lot of partners,” Fish and Wildlife director Dan Ashe said. “The result is a remarkable turn of events.” Threats from oil and gas development are “remarkably reduced.” Most important and vulnerable habitat is not at risk from agricultural conversion…

In Sublette County, crossroads of gas development and sage grouse habitat, rancher and state Rep. Albert Sommers (R-Pinedale) touted grassroots work. “It is comforting,” he said. “It’s welcome news, that the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service recognizes that local efforts … by ranchers, by conservationists, efforts by states, matter. They recognize there’s a way to get things done without bringing the total hammer of ESA down.”

Wyoming Game and Fish Department sage grouse coordinator Tom Christiansen will go back to work, doing what he’s done for years. “It’s basically a waypoint on a long journey that will never end,” he said. “It’s gratifying to hear,” he said of the announcement, “and we can take a deep breath. But we can’t stop what we’re doing in keeping moving forward.”

From the Colorado Independent (Kyle Harris):

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced today that the greater sage grouse does not require protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Once upon a time, this bird “darkened the skies,” she says in the video above. But no longer, of course. Now, the sage brush landscape where these creatures dwell is used for a thriving Western economy: ranching, recreation and energy.

When she says the word “energy,” the video cuts to windmills – notably, not fracking wells that speckle the West, spewing out flames and sometimes making tap water explode.

“This vast landscape is suffering death by a thousand cuts,” Jewell says with Shakespearean flourish. “Longer, hotter fire seasons have eliminated millions of acres. Invasive species are pushing out native vegetation. And development is fragmenting the land. By many measures, the sage grouse serves as the pulse of this imperiled ecosystem.”

The bird’s population has plummeted by 90 percent, sparking the largest land conservation effort in U.S. history. And as Jewell tells it, an unlikely cohort of ranchers, sportsmen, environmentalists and industry came together to protect the grouse — giving the bird a “bright future.”

“With climate change and an expanding population, the stresses on our land, water and wildlife aren’t going away.”

But Jewell remains optimistic. “We have shown that epic collaboration across a landscape guided by sound science is truly the future of American conservation.”

In other words, the private sector will save us – or at least these poor, besmirched birds.

The response to the announcement has been largely positive.

Celebrating the political forsight and leadership of President Barack Obama, Gov. John Hickenlooper and Jewell, Conservation Colorado’s Executive Director Pete Maysmith touted the sage-grouse plan in a release: “The scope and scale of this unprecedented effort is astounding. It highlights that through collaboration, diverse interests can achieve unbelievable results – focusing on a shared goal and not our perceived differences.”
Colorado’s U.S. senators took the news with glee.

In a statement, Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet wrote:

“Today’s announcement is a testament to the tireless work of our local communities, along with the state, to enhance conservation efforts. Colorado farmers, ranchers, local governments, conservationists, and community members have worked for years to find innovative ways to protect sage grouse habitat. This decision ends the uncertainty hanging over the heads of families, farms, and businesses on the western slope. It’s also another reminder that Coloradans can work together to develop commonsense solutions to difficult problems that can serve as a model for the nation. Now it’s important that the collaboration and hard work continue to effectively and successfully implement the state, federal and voluntary plans in a way that works for everyone.”

“Today’s announcement is a testament to the tireless work of our local communities, along with the state, to enhance conservation efforts. Colorado farmers, ranchers, local governments, conservationists, and community members have worked for years to find innovative ways to protect sage grouse habitat. This decision ends the uncertainty hanging over the heads of families, farms, and businesses on the western slope. It’s also another reminder that Coloradans can work together to develop commonsense solutions to difficult problems that can serve as a model for the nation. Now it’s important that the collaboration and hard work continue to effectively and successfully implement the state, federal and voluntary plans in a way that works for everyone.”

“Keeping the greater sage-grouse from being listed as an endangered species has always been my goal, and I’m glad Secretary Jewell arrived at the same conclusion. Greater sage-grouse populations are increasing, and I commend the collaborative efforts from stakeholders to keep this bird from being listed. While land use management is best handled by local groups, landowners and state leaders, I will be closely monitoring the implementation of the federal land-use management plans on our public lands in Northwest Colorado and across the West.”

Despite this bipartisan love fest, Jeremy Nichols of Wildearth Guardians took to Twitter to condemn the decision, arguing that it would keep the feds from limiting the oil and gas industry.

From the Las Vegas Review-Journal (Henry Brean):

The greater sage grouse will not be added to the endangered species list because the bird’s habitat in Nevada and 10 other western states is already being protected by “the largest land conservation effort in U.S. history.”

So said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell in an announcement Tuesday that was immediately cheered by some who feared red tape and economic damage from an endangered species listing for such a wide-ranging bird.

Jewell said additional federal protection is unnecessary thanks to all the work done so far: dozens of public-private partnerships among federal and state regulators, ranchers, energy developers and conservationists aimed at preserving the chicken-sized bird’s sagebrush home.

“The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has determined that these collective efforts add up to a bright future for the sage grouse,” Jewell said in a video posted to YouTube.

Two hours later, she formally announced the final listing decision for the sage grouse at Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge just outside Denver, where she was joined by a host of federal and state officials including Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and the governors of Colorado, Montana and Wyoming.

Sandoval said he is “cautiously optimistic that this is good news for Nevada,” but a lot more work lies ahead.

“I appreciate Secretary Jewell’s commitment to continue working with us, and I take her at her word that we will collaborate in good faith during the next two years so that we have the opportunity to demonstrate that the Nevada plan provides the best conservation for sage-grouse in Nevada,” Sandoval said in a written statement. “We will closely monitor the implementation of this decision so that every option remains available to our state.”

The greater sage grouse is native to 11 western states and Canada, but its population has declined over the past century from about 16 million to fewer than 500,000 by some estimates.

The ground-dwelling bird measures up to 30 inches long and two feet tall and weighs two to seven pounds. In the spring, the males puff themselves up and perform elaborate mating dances that attract hens and human tourists.

Experts say the bird is now threatened with extinction because its fragile, slow-healing sagebrush habitat has been splintered by wildfires, invasive plants and human development. In Nevada alone, wildfires have burned through more than 800,000 acres of sagebrush since 2000.

Jewell called it “death by a thousand cuts.”

Sage grouse are found across the northern half of Nevada, with large expanses of prime habitat in the northeastern and northwestern corners of the state. Several hundred of the birds are killed in Nevada each year in state-regulated hunts that have gone on for decades…

But not everyone is celebrating.

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., said the federal mitigation plans drawn up to avoid listing the sage grouse are just as damaging to Nevada and the West.

“This has been an issue of the Department of the Interior using the threat of a listing to get what it really wanted all along: limiting Nevadans’ access to millions of acres of land equal to the size of the state of West Virginia,” Heller said in a written statement. “At the end of the day, Big Government continues to tighten its grip at the expense of rural America’s future, especially in Nevada.”

Rep. Rob Bishop, a Utah Republican and chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, called Tuesday’s announcement “a cynical ploy” to distract the public from federal regulation every bit as restrictive as listing would have been.

“The new command and control federal plan will not help the bird, but it will control the West, which is the real goal of the Obama Administration,” Bishop said in a written statement.

Technically, there are almost 100 separate plans.

The Fish & Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management gave final approval Tuesday to 98 land-use plans developed by federal, state and local stakeholders over the past five years to protect sagebrush habitat on public land in 11 states.

According to agency officials, those plans are generally designed to minimize new surface disturbances in core sage grouse areas, improve and expand existing habitat and reduce the threat of wildfires, all while respecting valid rights and rights-of-way.

But some new development will be restricted because of the bird. The Department of Interior just announced plans to temporarily prohibit new mines on about 10 million acres of federal land considered sage grouse strongholds in Nevada, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming.

The ban on new mining development is expected to last for up to two years while federal regulators determine whether the land should be permanently withdrawn from mineral exploration to protect sage grouse. That analysis will include input from the public.

For now, the decision not to list the bird is largely drawing praise — though some of it guarded — from ranchers, hunting organizations, energy developers and conservation groups.

Eric Holst, associate vice president of working lands for the Environmental Defense Fund, called it “one of the biggest listing decisions of our time” and proof that “wildlife conservation does not have to come at the expense of the economy.”

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