State Management Plans Are the Only Path to Successful Sage Grouse Conservation

The House Committee on Natural Resources held a hearing to review the success of Western State sage grouse management plans and the need for continued local control over sage grouse management. Western States sage grouse management plans have been the primary driver of improvements to the species range-wide.

[T]he federal government under the Obama administration insisted on managing Greater Sage Grouse recovery with a Washington, D.C., one-size-fits-all approach that fails miserably to address the individual management challenges present in each state. The purpose of today’s hearing is to provide further evidence that state and local control leads to lasting success. States have consistently proven to be masters at caring for their own lands and wildlife, and sage grouse is no different,” Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) said.

In 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided that listing the Greater Sage Grouse as either threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act was not warranted. Instead, the Obama administration developed an equally-restrictive de facto listing scheme by amending 98 Western resource management plans.

The Obama administration’s de facto sage grouse listing and the 20 year mineral moratorium on ten million acres of land has been one of the greatest threats to the livelihood of western communities. Some of the most stifling consequences of the Obama era regulations were targeted at businesses,” Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) said. “Thankfully President Trump’s Department of [the] Interior cancelled the massive proposed withdrawal allowing job creators and hardrock miners to get back to work.”

Decades of activist litigation and efforts by the Obama administration to circumvent successful state management plans have been “bad for the West, bad for jobs and bad for sage grouse,” according to Idaho Speaker of the House and fifth generation rancher Scott Bedke.

In the process of placating anti-grazing activists, federal agencies have made the number one threat to the Greater Sage Grouse in Idaho worse. In fact, these federal amendments, if left to stand, will create an explosive wildfire situation throughout the Great Basin,” Bedke added.

In 2017, Bedke’s family ranch lost their entire winter grazing allotment due to overly prescriptive federal land use restrictions. A wildfire, which could have been easily contained by local firefighter, was allowed by federal managers to grow out of control burning tens of thousands of acres of prime sage grouse habitat.

My home state of Colorado has spent more than ten million dollars, set aside 130,000 acres for habitat and is developing a mitigation marketplace all for protecting the sage grouse,” Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) said.

State management plans have been developed with local stakeholders and experts on the ground for more than a decade to address unique and varying geographic differences within their boundaries.

It should be no surprise that Western States are actively implementing plans within their respective states that are having positive impacts on habitats,” Chairman of the Eureka County Nevada Commissioner, Vice Chair of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Federal Lands Committee and Fourth Generation Cattle Producer J.J. Goicoechea said.

Utah, for example, spends an average of $5 million a year protecting sage grouse, and has seen the state population of sage grouse steadily increase since 1990. The state has been especially successful at mitigating the threat of catastrophic wildfire within sage grouse management areas.

I am here to do more than just share a feel good success story of a program that is working. I am here to protect these programs,” Deputy Director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources Darin Bird, in reference to the state’s management strategies, stressed.  

Similarly, in Montana, male sage grouse are up 153% compared to 2014 numbers due to the investment of almost $8 million in conservation funds in 2016 to restore over 1,000 acres of critical sage grouse habitat.

Click here to view full witness testimony. 

Bills to Modernize Endangered Species Act Advance Through Committee

The House Committee on Natural Resources passed five bills to reform the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) issued the following statement:

The ESA is a landmark statute created with noble intent. It also includes fatal design flaws that inhibit greater success and handicap state-led, science-based recovery strategies. These flaws must be addressed and the law must be modernized. This slate of bills provides a framework for this discussion that we will build upon in coordination with the Senate, Trump administration, states and all interested stakeholders. I thank the bill sponsors for their work on these important pieces of legislation and look forward to our work ahead.”

H.R. 424 (Rep. Collin Peterson, D-MN), the “Gray Wolf State Management Act of 2017,” reissues the final rules from the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to delist the gray wolf in the Western Great Lakes region and maintains effective state wolf management in Wyoming. The bipartisan bill passed by a vote of 26-14.

H.R. 717 (Rep. Pete Olson, R-TX), the “Listing Reform Act,” allows for the consideration of economic factors in threatened listing decisions. It also provides flexibility to agencies’ prioritization in processing listing petitions, which relieves FWS from excessive litigation and allows more resources to be used for species conservation and recovery. It passed by a vote of 22-13.

H.R. 1274 (Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-WA), the “State, Tribal and Local Species Transparency and Recovery Act,” fosters greater cooperation between the federal government and states by ensuring state, local and tribal scientific data is factored into ESA species listing decisions. The bill passed by a vote of 22-14.

H.R. 2603 (Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-TX), the “Saving America’s Endangered Species Act” or “SAVES Act,” removes duplicative permitting requirements for interstate movement of nonnative endangered species enhancing opportunities for conservation. The bipartisan “SAVES Act” passed by a vote of 23-16.

H.R. 3131 (Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-MI), the “Endangered Species Litigation Reasonableness Act,” combats the recent proliferation of ESA-related litigation by capping attorneys’ fees to the same reasonable levels allowed for other types of citizen lawsuits against the government. It passed by a vote of 22-16.

Click here to view full markup action. 

Bishop Statement on Sage Grouse

Department of the Interior has announced plans to reverse the former administration’s 10 million acre mineral withdrawal across six western states, overhaul the de facto Sage Grouse listing and improve management of the species through greater state input. Chairman Bishop (R-UT) issued the following statement:

These withdrawals were never about Sage Grouse conservation. It was all a ploy to assert more federal power, ignore actual data and best science, and diminish the influence and authority of states. States have proven to be more than capable of managing wildlife and conservation within their borders and will continue to be the best advocate for the species.  

“Secretary Zinke is developing a better policy through input from states and people on the ground with local knowledge and expertise.”

Grizzly Delisting Process Emblematic of Need for ESA Reform

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) June 22 announced grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem will be delisted from the endangered species list. Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) issued the following statement:

“I commend this Administration and the Department of the Interior for delisting the grizzly bear even though it  should have been done years ago. States are far more capable of managing the grizzly population than the federal government. The time it took to get this delisting is the latest evidence that reform of ESA is sorely needed. Recovery and delisting — and responsible state management that will prevent listings in the first place — must be the goals of ESA, not lifetime sentences on the endangered list fraught with frivolous litigation.”

Background:

Grizzly bears are currently listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Delisting the species will allow states the ability to manage populations within their borders.

The grizzly bear population was originally delisted in 2007, but relisted in 20009 following litigation. In 2016, FWS proposed to delist the grizzly bear population as former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar deemed the population “unquestionably recovered” in 2012. The population has remained either steady or increasing for close to a decade.

Zinke Signs New Sage Grouse Order

WASHINGTON – U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, late yesterday, signed a Secretarial Order 3353 to improve sage-grouse conservation and strengthen communication and collaboration between state and federal governments. Together, the Federal government and states will work to conserve and protect sage-grouse and its habitat while also ensuring conservation efforts do not impede local economic opportunities.

In signing Secretarial Order 3353, Secretary Zinke established an internal review team that will evaluate both Federal sage-grouse plans and state plans and programs to ensure they are complementary. As the team explores possible plan modifications, it will also consider local economic growth and job creation.

“While the federal government has a responsibility under the Endangered Species Act to responsibly manage wildlife, destroying local communities and levying onerous regulations on the public lands that they rely on is no way to be a good neighbor,” said Secretary Zinke. “State agencies are at the forefront of efforts to maintain healthy fish and wildlife populations, and we need to make sure they are being heard on this issue. As we move forward with implementation of our strategy for sage-grouse conservation, we want to make sure that we do so first and foremost in consultation with state and local governments, and in a manner that allows both wildlife and local economies to thrive. There are a lot of innovative ideas out there. I don’t want to take anything off the table when we talk about a plan.”

In September 2015, the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture finalized the greater sage-grouse plans, which included amendments and revisions to 98 Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forest Service land use plans in 11 Western states. The plans were cited by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) as a key reason for its decision that the greater sage-grouse did not merit protection under the Endangered Species Act. Protection under the act could potentially stifle economic development across large areas of the American West where more than half of sage-grouse habitat is on public lands managed by the BLM and the Forest Service.

The Secretary has asked this interagency team of experts from the BLM, FWS, and U.S. Geological Survey to focus on addressing the principal threats to rangeland health and sage-grouse habitat—invasive grasses and wildland fire. The team will also consider creative approaches and ideas, including a captive breeding program, setting population targets by state, and opportunities to improve state involvement.

The team will examine the plans in light of policies set forth in Secretarial Order 3349, American Energy Independence. To this end, the team will be asked to identify plan provisions that may need to be adjusted or rescinded based on the potential for energy and other development on public lands.

This Secretarial Order follows through on statements Secretary Zinke made during his confirmation hearing, when he stated that he understands each state has different needs and issues and committed to working with them and local communities. He concluded that together the Federal government, states and western communities will get this job done.