Sage grouse ploy a wolf in sheep’s clothing

Residents of the 11 Western states that provide habitat for the greater sage grouse may have breathed a sigh of relief September 23 when the Interior Department announced that the chicken-sized bird would not be listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). But a closer look at what the Obama administration has in store for the region shows that the West’s sage grouse worries are far from over.

The much-anticipated announcement came in the face of a September 30 court-ordered deadline Wolf in sheeps clothingunder which the Interior Department’s Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) was to decide whether the ground-dwelling bird warranted federal protection under the ESA. FWS estimates that the sage grouse’s numbers have fallen from several million to 250,000 – 400,000 over the last few decades. The agency cites human encroachment, cheatgrass, an invasive species that has displaced sagebrush in many parts of the bird’s habitat, and “climate change” (never defined) as among the reasons for the grouse’s decline.

Instead of turning to the controversial ESA, the administration is sticking with a package of highly complex land management plans unveiled in late May. The plans, to be administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), cover the entire 167-million-acre sage grouse habitat and contain land-use restrictions every bit as rigid as could be expected under the ESA.

Indeed, far from getting a reprieve from the ESA, residents of the affected states — especially farmers, ranchers, and people employed in the oil, gas, and mining industries — will see their livelihoods jeopardized by the feds’ plans. Oil and gas wells, for example, will be clustered in groups of a half-dozen or more to avoid scattering them across the sage grouse’s habitat. Drilling near breeding areas will be prohibited during mating season and power lines will be moved away from prime habitat to avoid serving as perches for rapSage grousetors that prey on sage grouse.

Under the 15 amended land management plans the feds are imposing in lieu of the ESA, ranchers will have a heavy burden to carry. As noted by Brian Seasholes of the Reason Foundation, ranches contain over 80 percent of the moist habitat – springs, streams, ponds, and seasonal wetlands – that sage grouse, particularly hens and chicks, depend on in the summer. “The new plans limiting where livestock can graze, creating large buffer zones for sage grouse habitat, and adding monitoring by the Bureau of Land Management may make life difficult for these ranchers…”

Fear of the ESA was so widespread that state and local officials in the region, together with businesses, landowners, university researchers, and conservation groups, spent years developing state conservation plans that would enable sage grouse numbers to rebound, without unduly burdening people’s ability to earn a living. Ranchers, for example, kept their cattle away from sage grouse breeding grounds, and oil and gas companies planted sage brush to provide shelter for the birds. These and other measures had already begun to bear fruit. The number of mating sage grouse males has increased 63 percent since 2013, according to an August report from the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.

None of this, however, would dissuade the administration from imposing federal restrictions, cooked up by Washington bureaucrats and Obama political appointees, on the hapless residents of the region, all the while claiming it was exercising restraint by not resorting to the ESA.

“Do not be fooled,” Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah and chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, told The Hill (September 24). “The announcement not to list the sage grouse is a cynical ploy…With the stroke of a pen, the Obama administration’s oppressive land-management plan is the same as a listing.”

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About the Author: Bonner Cohen, Ph. D.

Bonner Cohen, Ph. D.

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph. D., is a senior policy analyst with CFACT.

  • Salverda

    For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. (Ephesians 6:12 KJV).

    We are no longer a nation governed by laws passed by people who represent us. Our law makers have been bought and paid for, by special interest groups who have been allowed to bribe our politicians with “donations.” Laws, which we have agreed to, are now superseded by rules (that we largely oppose) which were written by these groups. This is a form of idolatry whereby we must obey the dictates of invisible immortal entities such as the EPA. Make no mistake about it, granting “personhood” To associations and organizations Is the same thing as deifying false gods. In our “modern enlightenment” we are no better than the ancient heathen, and the warnings of the first commandment go unheeded in our modern times more than they ever did before. We bow to agencies created by both the left and the right, Unions, and corporations, which have neither ears to hear, nor mouths to speak.

  • wally12

    It is time for the down sizing of all federal agencies. That includes the BLM, EPA and a host of others. These agencies do more harm than good. In many cases they make matters worst. In general, most of theses agencies would be more efficient if transferred to the state governments and to the local state DNRs. For example, the Rural Electrification Agency was created by FDR as an agency which would promote electrification though out the US. That process has been completed and it is time for this agency to be dismantled. Instead, it is still in existence since agencies have a way of finding new projects to promote. That is a natural reaction since no one wants to lose their pay check. Other agencies have found a way to support projects that typically belong to another specific one. How many agencies now provide funding foe education? The number is large and needs to be consolidated with the elimination of duplicate funding.