National Wildlife Federation blasts action on House Interior bill

Sportsmen target funding levels, harmful sage-grouse and public-lands items

Amendments proposed to the House Interior Appropriations bill would endanger America’s public lands and outdoor heritage by failing to adequately fund conservation and attempting to undermine efforts to save the greater sage-grouse and the sagebrush country that supports hundreds of species.

Sportsmen’s and conservation groups are particularly concerned about a provision aimed at delaying a decision on whether the greater sage-grouse should be federally protected and other proposals that would stymie conservation efforts for several years, said Aaron Kindle, the National Wildlife Federation’s Western Sportsmen’s Campaign Manager. Now is not the time to derail the work already under way, including the Bureau of Land Management’s recently released sage-grouse conservation plans, he added.

"We have seen an unprecedented collaboration among federal, state and local governments, private landowners and conservationists to save a species and a landscape," Kindle said. "If we lose the momentum and ignore the bird’s declining numbers and loss of its habitat, we’ll end up having to take more drastic measures that could limit the use of our public lands in the not-too-distant future."

If the sage grouse population plummets to the point that federal protections are needed, Kindle said, we will have failed the bird and the lands that support more than 350 other species, a $1 billion annual economy and a way of life important to hunters, ranchers, recreationists, wildlife watchers and communities across the West.

A 2014 poll by the National Wildlife Federation found nine out of 10 hunters in the West believe it’s important to take action to protect sage-grouse habitat in their state and generally link protection of sage-grouse habitat with maintaining healthy populations of other wildlife species.

In general, new polls show broad public support for conservation, balanced public-lands management and the integrity of the Endangered Species Act, making current congressional attacks on our public-lands heritage all the more frustrating, said Kate Zimmerman, NWF’s public lands policy director.

"Before this barrage of amendments to the House bill is over, we could see votes making it much tougher to approve national monuments that have popular support and more political intrusion into what should be science-based decisions about wildlife conservation," Zimmerman said. "Meanwhile, Congress continues to show how disconnected it is from the people it claims to serve by supporting efforts to sell off public lands while refusing to adequately fund conservation and environmental protections important to Americans."

On the other hand, Zimmerman noted the opposition to updating the nearly century-old oil and gas royalty rate for drilling operations on public lands. The BLM is considering raising the 12.5 percent rate, far below what several states charge, as well as decades-old bond requirements.

"The resistance to seeking a fair return for the public’s resources is especially mind-boggling coming from elected officials who frequently chastise federal agencies for not being more business-like," Zimmerman said.  

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The 2014 Poll by the National Wildlife Federation

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