NWF, affiliates tell Congress: Let sage-grouse conservation plans work

Organizations blast anti-sage-grouse provision in defense legislation

The National Wildlife Federation and its Western state affiliates strongly oppose a provision in the defense bill that would do nothing to improve national security but would derail efforts to conserve the greater sage-grouse and the sagebrush steppe.

In a letter Tuesday to the House Committee on Armed Services, the organizations detailed the problems with a section in the National Defense Authorization Act that would block plans to conserve sage grouse across the West. The bird’s population, once in the millions, has dropped to a total of less than a half-million in 11 Western states.

The provision is similar to a bill proposed earlier this year and language that was eventually deleted from last year’s defense bill.

The organizations noted the conservation plans approved by the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service were developed with input from states and private landowners. Failure to carry out the plans “would only make the species’ situation more dire, while stripping away the policy measures in place to ensure its survival,” the groups wrote.

Last September, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was able to avoid placing the bird on the Endangered Species List because of the safeguards in state and federal conservation plans. The provision in the defense bill would bar Fish and Wildlife from making a decision on the sage grouse’s status for 10 years and impose unprecedented limits on federal agencies’ ability to manage the bird and its habitat.

“Just like last year, some lawmakers are using concerns about national security as a pretext to prevent the implementation of federal plans to conserve sage grouse and the sagebrush steppe. And just like last year, the arguments for adding this language to the defense bill are groundless. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking on the bird’s fate,” says Clare Bastable, NWF’s public lands program director.

Bastable notes that the provision’s proponents contend the sage-grouse plans would jeopardize military training and operations in the bird’s habitat, but defense officials once again have said the plans pose no harm and that their existing natural resource management strategies don’t need to be revised.

Sportsmen and outdoor enthusiasts point out that the sagebrush habitat supports more than 350 species as well as activities that generate more than $1 billion in economic benefits annually.

“In Wyoming, as a result of a range of interests coming together, from local and state officials to ranchers and members of industry, we were able to avoid listing the greater sage-grouse on the Endangered Species List,” says Joy Bannon, field director of the Wyoming Wildlife Federation and governor-appointed member of the Wyoming Sage Grouse Implementation Team. “This work is far from over.  We simply cannot afford any roadblocks, especially with all the work, collaboration and momentum we have toward conserving this iconic bird and the sagebrush landscape, which is so important to our local economies and activities our communities rely on, like ranching and recreation. There is simply too much at risk to put the brakes on now for our conservation plans.”

“The work that laid the foundation for the federal and state sage-grouse conservation plans shows that when Westerners roll up their sleeves and put aside politics, we can find ways to conserve our wildlife, working landscapes and lifestyles,” says Brian Brooks, Idaho Wildlife Federation executive director. “Now, we’re calling on Congress to do the same – focus on solutions, not political stances. Time is of the essence.”


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