Sage-Grouse on Lek, © Diana LeVasseur

Sage-Grouse in the Crosshairs

It’s “silly season” in Congress. It’s an election year and the legislative session is winding down, which means that certain legislators and special interests have begun to purposefully introduce nonsensical legislation in the House and Senate this summer as part of an endless game of Congressional politics. These bills are not intended to advance public policy, but to force a response from political opponents in an attempt to gain an advantage in elections back home.

Sage-grouse, the charismatic ambassador of the Sagebrush Sea, have recently become a target in this deceptive practice. More than a decade after being petitioned for listing, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will finally consider the sage-grouse for protection under the Endangered Species Act in 2015. The date certain for a listing decision has also prompted federal agencies and western states to engage in unprecedented planning processes to implement new conservation measures to protect the grouse.

sage grouse at dawn ©Tatiana Gettleman/Flickr

Greater sage-grouse are the charismatic ambassador for the Sagebrush Sea.

Unfortunately, there are some in Congress who just can’t help but politicize wildlife conservation. This month, legislation was introduced in the House and the Senate, euphemistically named “Sage Grouse Protection and Conservation Act,” that would muck up the listing process for sage-grouse by allowing states to bar the federal government from even considering the species for protection for at least 10 years. This bill is bad for sage-grouse, bad for public lands, bad for stakeholders and bad government. Defenders of Wildlife has identified at least seven reasons why Congress should ignore it.

The legislation is bad for sage-grouse. The grouse is suffering from death by a thousand cuts—at least 26 land uses and related factors affect the species. Any Congressional effort to extend the current timeline would subvert the established science-based administrative process the Fish and Wildlife Service uses for determining whether a species warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act. Recent data indicate that sage-grouse populations continue to decline. Given the conservation challenges facing the sage-grouse, a listing determination is overdue.

The legislation is bad for public lands. If we don’t address sage-grouse conservation needs now, then saving the species from potential extinction – which includes conserving its remaining sagebrush habitat, much of which is on public lands – will be even more difficult, expensive and disruptive in the future.

The legislation is bad for landowners who want to work to improve habitat on private lands for sage-grouse, but need federal assistance to do so. Those funds may dry up if the sage-grouse listing decision is delayed for a decade.

The legislation is bad for stakeholders that would like certainty about sage-grouse conservation and the species’ status. Resource developers and landowners can better plan for their own activities in sage-grouse habitat when they know what will be required to protect and recover the species.

The legislation is unnecessary. Current planning efforts are on schedule to finalize conservation plans in time for the Fish and Wildlife Service to consider them in its listing decision in 2015. Resources, timelines and the incentive for these processes are hinged on the current decision deadline. The challenge facing these planning processes is not the need for more time, but greater resolve among federal agencies and western states to do what is required to conserve sage-grouse. The current decision date ensures continued federal and state commitment to conservation efforts.

The legislation is a beachhead for delaying any sage-grouse listing indefinitely. Will the Fish and Wildlife Service actually be allowed to consider the sage-grouse for listing after 10 years? Or will Congress delay listing again?

The legislation is a bad precedent. The Endangered Species Act has proven to be overwhelmingly successful in preventing the extinction of species since its enactment 40 years ago. Congress should allow the Fish and Wildlife Service to process species listing decisions under the act in accordance with the best available science. Some species have waited for more than 30 years for agency action. Congress should not further delay these scientific decisions by micromanaging the Endangered Species Act on a species-by-species basis, and undermining important administrative decision-making under the law.

Stay tuned, as we expect to see more silliness from this Congress before the session finally ends.

Mark Salvo is Director of Federal Lands Conservation at Defenders of Wildlife.

6 Responses to “Sage-Grouse in the Crosshairs”

  1. P. Dyer

    Congress thinks they can fool everyone with false labels on bills like this. Unfortunately, they DO fool a lot of people this way, but anyone with half a brain can see through the ruse. Thanks for posting this, DOW!

  2. Susan Brochu

    The sage grouse is an American icon. Please do all you can to protect and save this glorious bird.

  3. Tania

    What can we the public do about this terrible legislation? Just ridiculous what policy makers do..

  4. Alexander Yeung

    Is congress really that stupid to do it. They need to step down and let the better canditate who make better decision and have a strong knowledge of environmental and balance the ectosystem. Because congress contain old people that create not so great decision. We cant let those who want to control it for themselves and manipulate it from everybody back without even notice. I want an act that view and check on suspicious proposal of delisiting a species that instead send it to congress by senate or state government give it to the president, environment organization, or scientists to look over it. Let the public to vote and decide if it good or bad to our ecosystems.

  5. Deb Wingert

    Thanks for letting us know about yet another deceit coming out of Congress. Can congress be impeached?

  6. Michelle Lemley

    It seems as though the Republican Party has become the Redneck Party, bent on destroying wildlife, the Earth and our democracy. This year, vote “NO” on politicians who care about NOTHING except lining their campaign coffers!

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