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From The Mailbag: Sage Grouse Conservation

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

As participants in the decisions made in Congress, Idahoans contact me with valuable input about the issues our country faces.  Realizing that many may not have the chance to contact me, I post the top five issues of concern from Idahoans and my responses on my website.  The following is my response regarding sage grouse conservation:

As a lifelong Idahoan, I share an interest in protecting our environment and its unique wildlife and recognize the importance of our natural resources to our economy and way of life.  Given the need to protect the balance between environmental stewardship and our economy, I have concerns with the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) sage grouse management plans that have shut out the state and general public from the important decision-making process.  I continue to fight for adherence to the solutions for sage grouse habitat generated by the state and associated stakeholders.

In March 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) determined that listing the sage grouse as endangered under the authority of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) was warranted, but priorities and resource constraints precluded the agency from moving forward with this action.  The agency was instructed to revisit the determination in 2015, and determine what, if any, action to take.  In the meantime, USFWS recommended the BLM revise its land use plans to conserve and protect the species' habitat.

In response, western states worked with the federal government in the development of state-based science and consensus driven conservation plans.  The Idaho Sage Grouse Task Force was formed to implement local sage grouse conservation solutions.  State wildlife managers and private conservationists from energy companies, ranching families, and environmental and sportsmen's groups led this effort with guidance from federal land and wildlife management agencies. 

In September 2015, USFWS released its final determination that an ESA listing is no longer warranted.  While the "not warranted" determination is preferable to a listing, the plans employed by the Department of Interior in reaching that decision failed to take into account the tremendous and ongoing work of affected stakeholders at the state level.  In abandoning the state's planning process, the agency has unilaterally restricted access to 3.8 million acres of land and failed to address true problems facing the sage grouse, including the impacts of invasive species and wildfires on sage grouse habitat.  The federal management plans will lead to greater uncertainty for the species.

H.R. 2029, which appropriates federal funds for Fiscal Year (FY) 2016, was signed into law on December 18, 2015.  Recognizing the implications of the federal land-use plans on rural economies in western states, several colleagues and I aggressively sought the inclusion of language mandating the BLM's adherence to state-based sage grouse management plans.  Unfortunately, opponents prevented a viable path forward.  However, report language accompanying the bill advises the BLM to be mindful of concerns within the land-use plans as well as, "engage state, local, non-governmental and private partners," among other directives.

In May 2016, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 4909, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year (FY) 2017.  The legislation, which authorizes military programs, includes a provision requiring adherence to state-based sage grouse management plans.  The Senate's defense authorization bill, passed on July 14, 2016, did not contain the same ESA provisions as H.R. 4909, but both chambers are working to reconcile final language before sending it to the President to be signed.

It is crucial that management of species, habitat and natural resources result from locally-driven collaboration between stakeholders taking into account the viewpoints of all affected parties, rather than top-down directives from the federal government. 

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