Coalition challenges federal sage grouse protection plans

By Agri-Pulse staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, March 18, 2015 - A coalition of Western counties and ranching, mining, and energy associations is challenging information that federal agencies are using to make Endangered Species Act listing for the greater sage-grouse.

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The coalition, which includes the Public Lands Council and Western Energy Alliance, filed three Data Quality Act challenges against the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) and U.S. Geological Survey, specifically challenging reports the agencies are using to justify restrictions on land management to protect the ground-dwelling game bird. The actions “will damage Western communities while discouraging more effective state and local conservation efforts,” according to the coalition.

The coalition says the reports are using faulty science and that the federal plans imposed by the agencies are inferior to state, local and private sage-grouse conservation efforts.

“The reports push a one-sided, anti-grazing agenda by ignoring a large body of scientific literature,” Brenda Richards, Public Lands Council president, who ranches on public and private lands in Idaho, said in a news release. She said states and private landowners have invested millions of dollars into developing management plans and improving habitat through conservation efforts.

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The habitat of the greater sage grouse encompasses about 186 million acres in 11 states. FWS estimates that the bird's population has declined 30 percent since 1985, with between 200,000 and 500,000 individuals remaining.

FWS plans to decide by Sept. 30 whether the bird warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act. However, BLM and the U.S. Forest Service are using the agency reports to develop restrictions on 59 million acres of public land by amending 98 land-use plans to include protections for the greater sage grouse.

Richards said the reports do not address specific cause and effect threats to the greater sage grouse.

“The agencies are using faulty logic to justify a top-down approach to sage grouse management, where states are much better suited, with their expertise as wildlife managers, to protect the sage grouse,” Richards said. “Many studies show misguided federal management will harm the sage grouse as well as the 11 states it inhabits.”

The petitioners are asking the agencies to withdraw the reports, or to amend them to reflect “sound analytical methods and the best available data.”

The coalition includes a number of counties in Colorado, Montana, Utah and Nevada, as well as the American Exploration & Mining Association; Colorado Mining Association; Colorado Wool Growers Association; Independent Petroleum Association of America; International Association of Drilling Contractors; Montana Association of Oil, Gas & Coal Counties; Montana Petroleum Association; Nevada Mining Association; Petroleum Association of Wyoming; Public Lands Council; Utah Multiple Use Coalition; and Western Energy Alliance.

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