GOP resists efforts to protect sage-grouse habitat

Lisa Neff, Staff writer

Political animals in late April gave priority to the oil and gas industry over a species threatened by dramatic decline.

The U.S. House Armed Services Committee on April 29 voted to maintain a sweeping provision in defense spending that delays for at least a decade any effort to provide federal protections for the greater sage-grouse.

Environmentalists said the congressional move would undermine federal efforts to protect the bird’s habitat across the West.

However, the Defense Department did not request the GOP-backed provision and environmentalists allege Republicans’ motivation has more to do with economics and the influence of the oil and gas lobby than with the national defense.

Included in the National Defense Authorization Act that should reach a floor vote in the next month is a provision from U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, a Republican from Utah, to prevent the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from protecting Sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act until 2025. The provision also would allow governors to veto any federal land management changes designed to protect the birds.

Sage-grouse populations — currently under the management of state fish and game agencies — are at a fraction of their historic numbers. The species has declined by more than 50 percent between 2007 and 2013 as its sagebrush habitat has diminished.

Bishop and other Republicans maintain that federally protecting the birds threatens military readiness and national defense because the bird’s habitat can be found at the Yakima Training Center in Washington state, Hawthorne Army Depot in Nevada and Tooele Army Depot and Dugway Proving Ground in Utah.

“The military didn’t ask for this exemption,” Defenders of Wildlife said in a prepared statement. “In fact, military installations across the west have been doing an admirable job conserving sage-grouse without compromising military readiness.

“We hope the Senate will reject this destructive proposal in its bill later this year. Sage-grouse are certainly no threat to national security and should not be used as an excuse to give the states control over millions of acres of federal lands.”

The House committee rejected a proposal from Massachusetts Democrat Niki Tsongas, who sought to delete the provision from the spending bill.

Environmentalists said Bishop’s rider essentially would turn over management authority on about 60 million acres of public lands to individual states and condemn the Sage-grouse to extinction.

“The tea party rider takes away the public’s right to participate in land-management decisions and simply hands the keys to our public lands to industry,” said Randi Spivak, public lands director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s an unprecedented giveaway to corporate polluters that’s completely out of step with public opinion on the importance of protecting the people’s lands. Poll after poll shows that an overwhelming majority opposes transferring or selling public lands to states.”

Endangered Species Day

Endangered Species Day is observed nationwide on May 15. Federally protected species in Wisconsin include the Northern long-eared bat, the Kirtland’s warbler, piping plover, Rufa red knot, whooping crane, Eastern massasauga, Higgins eye pearlymussel, Hine’s emerald dragonfly, Karner blue butterfly, the Eastern prairie fringed orchid and Mead’s milkweed.