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Sage Grouse Reaction: Stakeholders Offer Opinions On Government's Decision

Alan Krakauer
Flickr Creative Commons
Black and white head shot of a male sage grouse.

Early Tuesday morning Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced on Twitter the decision of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service not to list the greater sage grouse as endangered. This follows years of hard work, cooperation and collaborative planning among stakeholders in what is being touted as the largest conservation effort in U.S. history. 

Stakeholders are already reacting to the decision. Below are comments from some of those individuals and groups.

C.L. "Butch" Otter, Idaho Governor

"While I appreciate Secretary Jewell's public recognition of local and state efforts to preserve the species and its habitat, the question behind a 'not warranted' determination is: 'At what cost'? For months now, the federal government's initially transparent and collaborative process has been replaced by closed-door meetings and internal memoranda. That's resulted in a land management scheme for sage grouse habitat that remains a mystery to property owners and state and local wildlife advocates alike. The feds are asking us to trust them. It's not that simple and unfortunately this is far from over. I remain committed to doing what's best for the species and the people of Idaho."

Congressman Raúl Labrador

“Governors, private property owners and other stakeholders have spent years crafting plans that protect habitat while allowing the development of natural resources, sustainable use of rangeland and recreational access. Unless an overreaching federal government respects the wisdom of state-level conservation efforts, the sage grouse won’t recover and the new federal restrictions will undermine local economies.”

 Randi Spivak with the Center for Biological Diversity

“Greater sage grouse have been in precipitous decline for years and deserve better than what they’re getting from the Obama administration. While there are some important improvements for sage grouse in the new federal land-management plans, they still ultimately fall short of what’s needed to ensure these birds’ long-term survival.”

Erik Molvar, Wildlife Biologist with WildEarth Guardians

“The sage grouse faces huge problems from industrial development and livestock grazing across the West, and now the Interior Department seems to be squandering a major opportunity to put science before politics and solve these problems. The government’s proposed plans fall far short of ensuring this iconic, imperiled bird is protected from the serious threats posed by fossil fuel extraction, grazing and other types of development. The Interior Department appears to be declaring victory on behalf of the sage grouse before even unveiling its plans.”

Brian Rutledge, VP and Central Flyway policy advisor for Audubon

“This is exactly what Audubon has been working toward for 10 years. This is the kind of cooperation the Endangered Species Act was designed to encourage. It wasn’t intended to list everything under the sun; it was to motivate conservation before listing became necessary.”

Matt Mead, Wyoming Governor

"Today's decision recognizes Wyoming and other western states were successful. We can continue to crate jobs and share our natural resources with the rest of the nation while the greater sage-grouse thrives. . . This plan should serve as an example for other states that face challenges with the Endangered Species Act."

Ken Cole, Idaho Director for Western Watersheds

“We’re disappointed. We think that the plans are not adequate for protecting sage grouse. We’re still seeing declines, we’re still seeing large fires. And there’s been very little success in rehabilitating these landscapes after fire.”

Michael Brune, Sierra Club Executive Director

"I am encouraged by Secretary Jewell’s announcement to implement conservation plans for the greater sage grouse across ten western states. This iconic bird of the west has suffered greatly on account of overgrazing, and the coal, oil, and gas development that has threatened their habitat.
"When introduced in May, the Sierra Club joined protests, calling for the plans to be strengthened by using the best available science. As these plans are implemented and we evaluate their effectiveness, the Department of the Interior must continue to monitor the sage grouse numbers to ensure that these plans are working.
"I applaud Secretary Jewell and the Obama administration for drafting and now implementing these plans. The Sierra Club will continue to monitor the sage grouse population and work to ensure a full recovery of this unique bird."

Chris Saeger, Director Western Values Project

“Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and her team deserve our thanks for this historic announcement, and for listening to the Western voices who should matter most in managing Western landscapes. This effort sets a new conservation model for the American West in the 21st century — one where the farmers, ranchers, sportsmen and sportswomen have a seat at the table alongside the energy industry. Thanks to these plans, the billion dollar outdoor economy that depends on healthy sage brush habitat and oil and gas development can coexist.
"The American West is big country, and there’s plenty of room for debate, but let’s keep our eyes wide open about the polemics we’re likely to hear from either side of this issue: Oil will continue to be drilled on public lands, sage brush country will be better off, and the sky is not going to fall because of this decision. A lot of compromise and collaboration got us to this point, let’s keep up that spirit as we move forward toward implementation.”

Brian Sandoval, Nevada Governor

"For more than 15 years, Nevada has worked with our neighboring western states and federal partners toward a untied goal of conservation of the sagebrush habitat which includes preservation of the greater sage grouse. Today's announcement is a direct reflection of the hard work and dedication of our local and state leaders who have invested their time and built a blueprint that we believe is the best path forward for Nevada. Had U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recommended a listing of either threatened or endangered for the greater sage grouse, the federal government would have expanded its authority over critical sage grouse habitat on both public and private lands. The decision not to list will allow Nevada to maintain control of the management of the sage grouse, meaning Nevada will continue to monitor individual populations and set priorities that work for Nevada. In my view, resource management at the state level is better than exclusive federal control - and that is a central difference between listing the sage grouse and not listing it. "I am cautiously optimistic that this is good news for Nevada and I am pleased that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has come to this decision, but there is more work to be done. I am asking all local, state and federal leaders including the Sagebrush Ecosystem Council to stay at the table to resolve some key issues and continue their strong advocacy for implementation of Nevada's plan. We will closely monitor the implementation of this decision so that every option remains available to our state. "Today we reinforce the fundamental importance of a public-private partnership where federal and local stakeholders have equal platforms and participate as partners. Furthermore, this decision will help define federal obligations in the West and will help provide direction for Congress to adequately fund fire suppression as well as mitigation and restoration work across the western states. "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."

Paul Ulrich, Jonah Energy Regulatory Director

“This is the result of unprecedented collaboration amongst federal and state agencies, industry, ranchers, and conservation groups. Today’s decision validates that we can work together to find solutions to very challenging issues. It’s in our best interest to make sure that we get this right and we’ve already seen a shift by industry as our knowledge about greater sage-grouse has improved. We’re going to stay at the table to make sure that the landscape we work in is healthy. It is our backyard after all.”

Steve Jester, Executive Director, Partners for Conservation

“The decision to not list the greater sage-grouse is a confirmation of the power of the collaborative conservation model. When state, federal, local and private partners step up to the plate together to tackle an issue there is little that cannot be accomplished.”

Jack Connelly, retired Idaho Fish and Game Biologist

“Over the last few years, and it’s just gotten worse it seems like, is the tendency to get a lot more political in terms of this decision and sort of shunting aside some of the science. We’ve seen those efforts on the part of Congress and unfortunately we’ve seen some of that even with our state and federal agencies."

Dan Naatz, Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) Senior Vice President of Government Relations and Political Affairs

“While today’s non-warranted decision by the Department of the Interior is not unexpected, IPAA continues to believe these new federal land-use plans will ultimately result in a far greater economic impact for America’s independent oil and natural gas producers – small businesses with an average of 15 employees. Despite the numerous private-public partnerships and voluntary conservation efforts to conserve the greater sage-grouse and its habitat, America’s energy producers – and in turn, the American taxpayers – will suffer from these more-restrictive land management plans.


“IPAA members have demonstrated to be willing and committed partners in species and habitat conservation. These local businesses have proven it’s possible to balance a thoughtful, targeted conservation approach with energy and economic development – the very foundation for many small towns and local communities in the 11-state range. At a time when America’s oil and natural gas producers are already facing significant cost uncertainties, today’s decision will put more restrictions on our energy producers, making it more costly to operate and harder to provide the benefits of abundant, affordable energy to American families. We firmly believe that the greater sage-grouse can be protected without the economic harm that results from these unworkable land management plans.”


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