Sage-grouse are in peril again as dangerous bill hitches ride to NDAA

Credit Bob Wick, BLM. 

Last fall, the Department of the Interior finalized conservation plans for western states encompassing the iconic western sagebrush. These plans were historic due to their unprecedented collaborative nature – bringing diverse stakeholders to the table to preserve more than 350 species. The barometer for the success of the plans, and the overall health of the sagebrush sea, is the football-sized bird, the greater sage-grouse.

Sadly, these birds have a staunch enemy in Representative Bishop (R-UT), whose anti-conservation bill (H.R. 4739) is hitching a ride on the National Defense Authorization Act and seeking to undo these plans in his oil-rigged state under the veil of national security and military readiness. Representative Bishop knows that without the conservation plans, sage-grouse would face an endangered species listing by US Fish and Wildlife Service . That’s exactly why his bill would prohibit a listing decision for ten years, allowing status quo drilling operations and other activities on public lands to further encroach sagebrush habitat.

The rider makes no sense. Not only are the plans set up to preserve sage-grouse and the brush amid the multiple uses of our public lands, the Department of Defense has made it clear that they have the authority and resources necessary to lead conservation efforts on and around their training grounds. The sage-grouse is no threat to our armed services, and military personnel deserve better than these cheap attempts to meddle in a completely unrelated bill.

The real issue at stake is our ability to preserve and rehabilitate sage-grouse populations while conserving the sagebrush habitat. Millions of greater sage-grouse once filled the skies over the sagebrush sea, but today, greater sage-grouse number just  200,000 – 500,000. States have spent decades trying to grow declining grouse populations, but until September 2015, when the collaborative state and federal conservation plans were finalized, no effort has come close to solving the problem. 

The plans not only secured the conservation needed to save the bird, they set a foundation for the USFWS to determine that it wasn’t necessary to list the bird as endangered. This decision allows us to save the sage-grouse and its habitat, the more than 350 species that rely on it, as well as the outdoor recreation economy and way of life across the iconic West. Now lawmakers have to let the plans work.

Members of the House Armed Services Committee should see this ruse for what it is and remove these misguided provisions that have no place in the NDAA.  

Thank you to members like Representative Nikki Tsongas (D-Ma.), who offered an amendment to strike the harmful language from this bill. Unfortunately, her amendment failed on a party-line vote. It is important that this harmful grouse language does not make its way to the Senate bill, or any final agreement on the NDAA.