Collaboration, Idaho Style

Extractive Industry Determines the Fate of Sage Grouse in Idaho.

On Monday, March 12, 2011, the Idaho Governor Butch Otter’s Sage Grouse Task Force had its first formal meeting. Originally the meeting was to be organized by the Idaho Governor’s Office of Species Conservation (OSC) but something happened and rather than have OSC organize the task force the Governor himself created the task force by executive order, presumably so that he could limit participation just to groups that would play by his rules.  And that is exactly what he did.  Below is a list of the members of the Task Force:

Holland & Hart, Attorneys at Law, Renewable Energy Bill Myers
Lemhi County Commissioner Bob Cope
Idaho Power Brett Dumas
Simplot Chuck Jones
Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife Jack Oyler
Owyhee County Commissioner Jerry Hoagland
Idaho Power John Chatburn
Idaho Conservation League John Robison
Republican Legislator from Midvale, Idaho Representative Judy Boyle
Republican Legislator, Public Lands Rancher Representative Scott Bedke
Idaho Mining Association Randy Vranes
Idaho Cattle Association Richard Savage
Idaho Woolgrowers Rochelle Oxarango
Republican Legislator, Public Lands Rancher Senator Bert Brackett
Idaho Farm Bureau Federation Wally Butler
The Nature Conservancy Will Whelan

Craftily, as you can see below, the Task Force is tasked with minimizing the attention placed on the impacts of livestock grazing.  You will note that, within the list of impacts, livestock grazing is classified as “secondary threat” while “habitat fragmentation due to wildfire and invasive species” is listed as a primary threat.  Anyone who is honest about the threats to sage grouse realizes that livestock, and it’s associated infrastructure, is the primary reason for invasive species like cheatgrass and the associated increase in wildfire.  Livestock grazing is also the underlying cause for many of the secondary threats listed.  Water development, collisions with fences, prescribed fire and range treatments,  conifer “invasion”, and even West Nile virus are heavily influenced by livestock grazing and the associated infrastructure and activities. Yet, it seems, that most of the appointed members of the Task Force are predisposed to ignore all of that and focus on other issues.

Sage Grouse © Ken Cole
Sage Grouse watching for doom from above © Ken Cole

It will be interesting to see what kind of ridiculous recommendations come out of the Task Force.  I suspect that they will recommend more anthropogenic manipulation of the landscape in the form of juniper cutting and fuels projects and, I suspect, that wind and power interests will likely have to bow to the real lords of Idaho, the livestock industry.

This post explains more about the direction that this process seems to be going:
The Cowboy Plan to Save Sage Grouse….. Making Things Worse, December 14, 2011.

Let us call this what this is, it is an illegitimate process stacked with industry groups who only about sage grouse enough to want to protect their own interests and eliminate as much protection for sage grouse before the USFWS steps in and lists them as an endangered species.  They’re not fooling anyone and, it appears, there is no pretense of trying to fool anyone.

If you would like to attend the ensuing circus, meetings will be held at Idaho Department of Fish and Game offices around southern Idaho.

March 20 Boise
April 4 Boise
April 12-13 Idaho Falls
April 24-25 Pocatello
May 3-4 Boise
May 15 Twin Falls
May 24-25 Idaho Falls

Here is the 2012-03-12 Agenda and meeting schedule

Duties of the Task Force: 

A. Provide the Governor recommendations on policies and actions, using the 2009 Plan and other on-going activities as a backdrop, for developing a state-wide regulatory mechanism to preclude the need to list the species; 

B. The recommendations must be based on the following objectives and/or criteria: 

i. Conserve the species and its habitat while maintaining predictable and multiple uses of private, state and public lands; 

 ii. Identify and designate key/core sage-grouse habitat based on the biological needs of the species; 

iii. Tailor the management recommendations to the import of the habitat and is attuned to the interests of the State; 

iv. Address the following primary threats to the species as identified by the Service: 

    • Habitat fragmentation due to wildfire and invasive species; 
    • Conversion of habitat for agriculture or urbanization; and 
    • Energy development/infrastructure. 

v. Address the following secondary threats to the species as identified by the Service: 

    • Disease/West Nile virus; 
    • Management issues related to livestock grazing; 
    • Collisions with fences and power lines; 
    • Mining; 
    • Prescribed fire and range treatments; 
    • Water development; and 
    • Conifer invasion. 

vi. Identify opportunities for pro-active sage-grouse habitat enhancement projects; and 

vii. Recognize, encourage and incentivize land use practices that are actively maintaining or improving sage-grouse habitat as evidenced by improvements in habitat quality, active lek routes or stable/increasing populations of the species. 


  1. Ken Cole Avatar

    I think it should be named a “task farce”.

    1. Kristi Avatar

      I agree, Ken. By having this task farce, Otter’s hands are kept “clean”, by not having any direct involvement. This is CLEARLY self-serving for him and these groups/orgs involved. At least The Nature Conservancy is involved, makes it fair to have at least ONE non-hunting, non-ranching, non-polluting member in the group. How fair to include them—only to be used an an excuse. Beyond disgusting.

      1. Ken Cole Avatar

        Sorry, but I wouldn’t classify TNC as a non-ranching entity. TNC regularly grazes the lands that they purchase even though it clearly conflicts with conservation values. They have long touted the mythical benefits of livestock grazing and the Idaho director of TNC was highly touted by Butch Otter when they left as director of the Idaho DEQ to become the director.

        I don’t see that as a very good conservation endorsement.

        I think that perception is exactly what the Governor is looking for. Participation of conservation groups in an obviously illegitimate process is intended to give that process legitimacy in the eyes of those who might be less engaged. They’re going to get rolled and the Governor will claim it’s legitimate because of their participation….. watch.

        1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
          Ralph Maughan

          I think Western Watersheds had to sue at one time to bring a TNC ranch in SW Idaho into compliance with range standards.

        2. Daniel Berg Avatar
          Daniel Berg

          I’m getting the impression that the potential listing of the sage grouse is starting to concern a lot of people with money to lose.

  2. Kristi Avatar

    Well, you are right about TNC, it’s the appearance that something environmental is being included—superficial value. In politics, perception is everything. Reality has no place in politics…especially ID state-level politics. As we see all the time with Otter and recently with Jeff Siddoway’s self-serving live bait bill.

  3. Frank Renn Avatar
    Frank Renn

    They might succeed,once the Sage Grouse is gone from the Idaho landscape there will be no need to list them. Couldn`t the Gov have found at least one republican in the state who was a member of Audubon.

  4. WM Avatar

    I would not even suggest this is a collaborative effort.

    The language of the Executive Order (as well as Task Force composition) and charge of the group, is a political/legal powerhouse to opppose the ESA listing efforts. You don’t just make the first guy on the list a lawyer from Holland & Hart (these guys are a high profile national firm and a very good with home offices in Denver).

    I’ll go out on a limb, here. They are not looking for compromise and collaboration. They are looking for a way to keep sage grouse off the list. PERIOD!

    Somebody tell me I’m wrong about this.

    1. WM Avatar


      This Holland & Hart lawyer is a heavy weight. He was also the Solicitor for the Dept. of Interior during the Bush Admin. The Solicitor is the top lawyer for the Department, where he oversaw a staff of 300 lawyers in DC. He knows ESA law very well. He also was Deputy General Counsel for Dept. of Energy, and Legislative counsel for Sen. Alan Simpson of WY. He was a Bush nominee for the 9th Circuit Court. of Appeals, but the Senate D’s filabustered to block his appointment.

      H&H has a big natural resources book of business. Connect the dots on this one.

      1. Ken Cole Avatar

        I’m very well aware of Bill Meyer’s history. I see him at every court hearing representing interests of the other side.

      2. Ken Cole Avatar

        Meyers is representing the renewable energy sector on the task force.

    2. Brian Ertz Avatar

      I’ll go out on a limb, here. They are not looking for compromise and collaboration. They are looking for a way to keep sage grouse off the list. PERIOD!

      Somebody tell me I’m wrong about this.

      It’s easy to cheer on theoretical ideas about setting up processes in which all can get along around a table and work things out.

      The reality is: this (the sage grouse group) is what “collaboration” means in the state of Idaho. It was no different on bighorns, wolves, or any number of other processes.

      This is what collaboratives look like in the real world of the state of Idaho. So while you guys are critical of some of our skepticisms regarding these collaborative processes ~ this is what you were defending in the real world.

      1. Salle Avatar

        These folks are perpetuators of “my way or the highway” temper-tantrum style of legislature.

        And don’t anybody think that (like we have come to realize recently with the re-emergence of snewt the grinch) because senator wide-stance and his little buddy, dink, aren’t in the public eye that they don’t have their scent markings all over this crap…

      2. JB Avatar

        It seems they’re calling this a “task force” not a collaborative effort. Regardless, this ain’t collaboration by anyone’s definition, so why are you guys labeling it (or letting others label it) as such? Wouldn’t it be more effective to point out that their process comes no where near the definition of collaboration? Or that it is simply unfair?

        Put another way, if you know they’re trying to pass off a Chevette as a BMW, the appropriate response is, “what do you take me for”, not “BMW’s suck!”

        1. Ken Cole Avatar

          So all of this decision making that excludes certain voices here in Idaho isn’t really collaboration? I’ll agree that this isn’t really collaboration but this Task Force fully resembles every other group put together to address various issues and they have always been called collaborative groups.

          I think the issue here is that what passes as collaboration in Idaho is not really collaboration. It has been that way for a long time.

          The Owyhee Initiative
          The bighorn sheep domestic sheep advisory group
          The wolf plan group

          All of those things were labeled collaborative groups, and, with the exception of the BHS/DS group, interested parties were excluded. Our participation on the BHS/DS group was intended to keep them in compliance with the law and science but, since the role of the group was to try to come up with some way around those things there was an impass.

          The other two collaborative groups basically sold out the conservation values and rolled the conservation groups who participated.

  5. Doryfun Avatar

    Why did you folks leave out mention of ICl and John Robison? I agree the deck looks stacked, but I also support and have faith in ICL most of the time, and personally know John. He is no slouch,aware of all the politics,as well as ecology, so should be a good advocate on behalf of Sage Grouse.

    One thorn may seem small, unless it is your own hide.

    1. Ken Cole Avatar

      Not to disparage John, who I know as well, but I don’t think he can slow the tide on this. I don’t know what ICL has been doing with regard to sage grouse but I do know that WWP is the reason that this issue is receiving so much attention.

      ICL has a different agenda than WWP but, at this point, I wouldn’t touch this group with a ten foot pole. It’s so glaringly lopsided that I think participation in it only legitimizes it.

      It is fun to watch though. Kinda like watching the fox guarding the hen house. It can’t look good to someone who may have to make a decision based on the law.

      Seriously, I would love to see these groups take an honest look at sage grouse threats but it’s pretty obvious that they won’t. Why participate when you know the outcome of something like this?

      1. Doryfun Avatar


        Are you in the law profession?

          1. Doryfun Avatar

            Thanks for the simple answer. No torturous legalese to convolute my mind.

      2. Doryfun Avatar


        Acording to WM, it sounds like a heavy hand, and I admit I don’t trust Otter one inch. The tide is sure to be a tsunami affair.

        I’m not in the loop with all the inside politics with all you conservation groups, so don’t know why you wouldn’t touch the group with a 10 ft pole,or what glaringly lopsided means??

        I know what fox guarding the hen house means, but don’t see that. How is that so? Just why is it ICL won’t look at this honestly.

        (is this related to conservation turf wars?)

        Since you know the outcome already, and choose not to participate, was wondering if that is the no collaboration, no compromise part of Western Watersheds way, that you guys speak about?

        How would you guys save the sagegrouse? I open to better ideas.

        1. Ken Cole Avatar

          Let me explain what I meant by one of my previous statements. I said:

          ICL has a different agenda than WWP but, at this point, I wouldn’t touch this group with a ten foot pole. It’s so glaringly lopsided that I think participation in it only legitimizes it.

          I should have said that ICL uses very different tactics than Western Watersheds Project but I also feel that there are differences between our agenda as well, in that we focus to a greater degree on the negative impacts of livestock grazing on so many things. I don’t think that ICL has that focus and I’m not sure we’re on the same page with some of the methods that seem to be acceptable among other groups like TNC (ie juniper killing and so-called fuel reduction projects).  I would say that ICL does want greater protection for sage grouse but I don’t think that sage grouse have been nearly as big of an issue to them up to this point. 

          Now, to be clear, when I say that I wouldn’t touch this group with a ten foot pole I am referring to the Task Force in general. The framework for the Task Force is so obviously biased against honest debate of the issues that I can’t possibly believe that it will produce anything worthwhile.

          I stand by my statement that I believe the participation of ICL is only meant to give the Task Force the air of legitimacy. However, I don’t feel that a Task Force assembled in this way is legitimate. The deck is clearly stacked against ICL and sage grouse here.

          Regardless of ICL’s best intentions to do the right thing here for sage grouse, I don’t think they will be allowed to be effective in this environment. I think they should bow out and call it what it is. It’s a steamroller. 

          Let me make another thing clear, to say that we chose not to participate would be untrue. We expressly asked to participate on the Task Force even though we were told directly by Nate Fisher that we would be excluded from doing so. I don’t know why he resigned but he resigned shortly after we sent a letter to him asking to participate. Suddenly, a couple of days later, the first meeting of the Task Force was canceled and Nate Fisher resigned as head of the OSC. The governor then announced that he would issue an executive order to form the Task Force. This allows the governor to exclude Western Watersheds Project from the Task Force and exempt the meetings from the open meetings laws.

          Shortly afterward, the BLM announced that they would defer the decision for the China Mountain Wind Farm. 

          What does this have to do with Nate Fisher’s resignation?  I have no idea and nobody is talking. 

          If this Task Force was meant to do the right thing for sage grouse then I think we would still be seeking to participate.

          1. don s. Avatar
            don s.

            Lets not pussy foot around. ICL sees it’s primary objective in participating in these sorts of endeavors to be one of maintaining itself as a player, having a seat at the table. The process itself is what counts, that being also the desired outcome.

            This has been the case for many years; ICL sees this as it’s niche and that the more hard hitting organizations exist as foil for which they can contrast themselves with, and by doing so project themselves as credible. The outcome: their participation ultimately serves the status quo quite nicely, creating the impression of legitimacy. Its a form of prostituting oneself.

        2. Brian Ertz Avatar

          How would you guys save the sagegrouse? I open to better ideas.

          By curtailing existing and future impact on the ground.

          We have a law that makes sure that happens – it’s called the Endangered Species Act. We’re the group that brought the litigation on several occasions that demonstrated to a federal judge that Julie MacDonald had bastardized the scientific process on USFWS’s consideration of Sage grouse forcing the agency to consider listing again – at which point they determined sage grouse warranted protection.

          Sage grouse should be listed – in order to demonstrate “adequate regulatory mechanisms” the state and federal agencies are going to need to curtail current and future industrial impacts on the ground. But the whole reason the state and federal agencies want to prevent listing is to prevent curtailing existing and future industrial impacts – they want to protect those industries that threaten the bird more than they want to protect the bird. That’s ultimately why these efforts short of listing are futile.

          If collaboratives significantly curtail existing and future industrial impacts in Idaho ~ with the existing law as the baseline upon which to build additional protective regulatory mechanisms ~ fine.

          Unfortunately collaboratives haven’t, they don’t and they won’t ~ not with this group of 1%ers representing the very industries that need to be restrained running the show.

          How would you guys save the sage grouse

          We’ve petitioned the USFWS to extend protections of the ESA to sage grouse. We’ve litigated their refusal to do so on several occasions. This effort ultimately resulted in a determination that sage grouse were scientifically warranted for protection but precluded by other priorities – which has resulted in review/planning on over 100 BLM Range Management Plans – which we believe will ultimately be inadequate given the failure of agency to apply such guiding direction in a way that actual curtails impact on the ground.

          We have a suite of legal challenges to BLM Range Management Plans across the West – challenging their common failure to adequately protect sage grouse (particularly as it relates to grazing and oil & gas development) in their guiding/planning-level documents – we have been successful in federal court with the test cases on these challenges, establishing protective clarifying language from a federal court that will guide adjudication and/or potential settlement of the remaining (and additional) RMPs throughout the West.

          We continue a suite of challenges to on-the-ground level grazing decisions affecting over 600 allotments in Idaho and Nevada – as well as others in other states that have important sage grouse habitat. We have been successful on all counts on the 5 test-cases selected for initial adjudication – which establishing protective clarifying language and demonstrates the failure of agency to adequately implement regulatory mechanisms established at the planning level.

          etc. etc. etc.

          Sage grouse need listed on the Endangered Species Act – reinventing this wheel with industry-sponsored collaboratives like these isn’t going to work. The habitat is declining – we need to curtail the existing (and future) impact – restrain our destructive relationship to the sage brush biome sooner rather than later. Sage grouse can’t afford to wait on these flagrant stall tactics any longer.

          1. Doryfun Avatar

            Ken & Brian

            Thanks for your clarifications. I thought you were applying the fox guarding the hen house to ICL. I get it as it applies to all the others, and would agree with everyone that this is no collaboration. I like your words better: task farce.

            Yes, I agree token groups represent attempts at legitimacy, and it is a big tide to fight. Though ICL may be a thorn, granted probably not enough pain for the lion to do more than lick its paw. Perhaps only more of a false sense of hope for me and unrealistic expectations?

            That various groups have different methodologies and priorities, is understandable, though sometimes unfortunately they become antagonistic to one another (divide and conquer fodder for industry).
            I’m guessing part of the reason WW was not invited to participate, in part was due to past lawsuits, and WW’s not willing to compromise, as other groups were, at various past issues, specially wolves??

            As mentioned before, for a long while now, I have felt like many environmental issues has finally come to that “backs against the wall – no more place to move “ – where compromise only means losing more. With no optimism for abilities to defend the line without compromise, in an atmosphere of toxic politics, energy hungry, over populated world, I guess my personal gravity conceded to: trying to slow down the rate of loss, by collaboration and compromise, rather than total resistance, which often only gets one black-balled for future participation and reduces effectiveness for desired resistance all the more. (cerebral reverberations orbiting my grey matter, anyway).

            While I applaud WW for battles won, I am hoping that it will lead to more, but afraid also, it may jeopardize future attempts for desired outcomes, too??

            I don’t have enough confidence that there will ever be enough people in this country to stand the line in front of the wall. Jobs for people in a capitalist – growth based economy on finite planet – and societies unwillingness/inability to curb consumptive appetites and it’s own numbers may be too much to win over??

            Am curious, was wondering why a group with Watersheds in it’s name, has not been more present on fighting grazing effluence and illegal gravel/mining threats in the Salmon River? (at least in the lower section – and especially with a fisheries bio/guide on your staff). Or is this one of your “suite of challenges” I am missing here?

  6. Daniel Berg Avatar
    Daniel Berg

    There seems to be only a few sentences that actually get to the meat of what’s going on here:

    “WHEREAS, the development of a state-specific regulatory mechanism, consistent with the objectives of this
    Executive Order, may allow the State the opportunity to be exempted from the applicability of these Instruction
    Memoranda guiding interim management of public lands within Idaho;”

    “WHEREAS, the development of a state-specific regulatory mechanism will enable the BLM to incorporate the
    State’s plan as an alternative in its environmental analysis pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act

    And my favorite:

    “WHEREAS, the listing of the species would have a significant impact on the State’s custom, culture and way
    of life;” – Code words for “MONEY/POWER/STATUS QUO”

  7. Salle Avatar

    Mostly what I have to say is; Way back in 2006 I was at a meeting, Ken and Ralph were there too, and I said one thing and I got some unpleasant looks for it; but I can say now that… I told you so.

    The comment I made related what was going on in DC, with regard to the full scream ahead advancement of “trickle-down” bad policy coming to your state soon… and it did happen in much the same manner as I described. (I think I was trying to insert some serious caution with regard to continued collaborative efforts and always ending up with skinned noses when all was said and done. The problem then was that W hadn’t been in office very long but it was clear, at least to me, that this was the way the state would evolve into this stubborn rejection of anything other than their getting whatever they wanted with impunity. Most were willing to write me off and cast me as some negativity wielding nut. Mostly because many were still expecting the law to be heeded is we continued to play by the rules, I had seen too much already band wasn’t willing to continue paddling up a rushing river with a short paddle. I think Ralph was the only one who was willing to give my point some consideration-ugly or not, and that’s because I had said other things in the past and it turned out I was right and he saw it.)

    I hate it when I’m right like that because it’s usually a forewarning of dire things to come. And here we are. The only thing that has changed is the vehemence with which these toads pursue their agenda… on steroids.

    1. Salle Avatar

      sorry about the typos… and W actually had been in office for five years but I think it was not so much of a roll over on their backs Congress at the time.

    2. Doryfun Avatar

      “full scream ahead advancement of “trickle-down” bad policy coming to your state soon…”

      I love that humorous(bad of course) phrase, if only it wasn’t so true.

      “I think I was trying to insert some serious caution with regard to continued collaborative efforts and always ending up with skinned noses when all was said and done.”

      It is sometimes hard for me to distguish between compromise and collaboration. Both seem to work on the principle of each party losing a little in order to get along.

      In theory, always moving the line back an inch, on a planet with limited carrying capacities, ends up losing in the end, once the last line at the foot of the wall is crossed.

      What to do? Ad noseum reflections of doom and gloom verse hope and change.

      1. DB Avatar

        Write a check to Western Watersheds Project

        1. Salle Avatar


  8. Salle Avatar

    Interesting take on collaboration in the halls of government:

    1. Doryfun Avatar


      Thanks, ya, I already saw that piece. I enjoy his show. Too funny. I like humor, because sometimes we just have to step back laugh at our selves and all our tribal lunacy in many ways.

  9. AYRES Avatar

    It may interest you all to consider that two formal request made by loyal sage grouse advocates to join the “task force” were denied. Their combined years of habitat study and dedication to the bird is 150 years.

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