Was it political expediency?

News release

RENO, Nev. – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today abandoned its plan to give Endangered Species Act protection to Mono Basin sage grouse, a small and isolated population of prairie birds in Nevada and California that remain under threat from grazing, habitat loss and mining development. The agency’s decision ignores scientific recommendations for reversing the birds’ steep decline and relies on unproven conservation agreements with state and local communities.

The Mono Basin greater sage grouse population, located in eastern California and western Nevada and also known as the “bi-state” population, is fragmented and geographically isolated from all other greater sage grouse populations.

“As recently as December 2014, the Service considered that the magnitude of threats faced by bi-state sage grouse was so high that the birds were assigned the maximum priority for listing,” said Michael Connor, California director of Western Watersheds Project. “The Service’s backpedalling in claiming that unfinished management plans and voluntary, cooperative agreements will protect the species is untrue, and smacks of political expediency.”

The bi-state distinct population segment (DPS), which was proposed for listing as “threatened” in 2013, is an isolated and important subset of a species that is eligible for protection under the Endangered Species Act. The 2013 listing proposal cited the small population size and “inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms,” coupled with multiple threats from livestock grazing, invasive plants such as cheat grass, fire, energy development, mining, infrastructure and urbanization of habitat.

The six populations in the Mono Basin area have not exceeded 2,500 birds over the past decade, according to official estimates. By contrast, the largest population of Gunnison sage grouse, which the Service recently protected as a “threatened species” under the Endangered Species Act, is nearly 5,000 birds.

Given the known threats to bi-state sage grouse, the conservation measures proposed today do not protect adequate protection. Specific shortcomings include: 1) failure to protect sage grouse nests with adequate grass cover to hide eggs from predators; 2) calling for livestock to reduce flammable cheat grass — a practice has not been proven to be effective; 3) no restrictions on geothermal leases that would cover 143,000 acres of habitat; 4) no restrictions on mining; and 5) no requirement to limit overall disturbance density to under 3 percent of habitat.

“Many of the most serious threats to the Mono Basin sage grouse remain unaddressed, and its tiny and isolated populations are under imminent threat of extinction,” said Erik Molvar, wildlife biologist with WildEarth Guardians. “Today’s decision does nothing to resolve the problems facing this special population, it just punts the issue to the courts.”

Recent planning efforts on public lands still await completion and conservation groups have objected and submitted formal protests.

“The Service is failing to keep up its end by not protecting enough public lands to ensure the grouse’s conservation,” said Steve Holmer with American Bird Conservancy. “We support an endangered listing for this population due to its very small size and inadequate federal management plans; no listing at all defies common sense and the best available science.”

“These birds are in serious trouble and yet the government is doing nothing to restrict hardrock mining, geothermal development and off-road vehicle races,” said Randi Spivak, public lands director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Half measures may delay extinction but it won’t prevent it.”

– – –

Contact:
Michael Connor, Western Watersheds Project (818) 345-0425, mjconnor@westernwatersheds.org
Steve Holmer, American Bird Conservancy (202) 888-7490
Erik Molvar, WildEarth Guardians, (307) 399-7910
Randi Spivak, Center for Biological Diversity, (310) 779-4894

 
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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University with specialties in natural resource politics, public opinion, interest groups, political parties, voting and elections. Aside from academic publications, he is author or co-author of three hiking/backpacking guides.

39 Responses to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service abandons plan to give ESA protection to bi-state sage grouse

  1. avatar Ida Lupine says:

    RENO, Nev. (AP) — Interior Secretary Sally Jewell reversed the government’s proposed federal protection for a type of sage grouse specific to California and Nevada on Tuesday, and said it shows it’s still possible to head off a bigger, looming listing decision for the greater sage grouse across 11 western states.

    You’re all heart, Sal!

    Conservationists who petitioned to protect both populations accused Jewell of caving to pressure from Western conservatives who fear federal protection would mean dramatic restrictions on livestock grazing, energy exploration and other development of public lands.

    No Listing for Sierra Sage Grouse Sends Signal Across West

  2. avatar Ida Lupine says:

    Measures called for under the conservation plan for California and Nevada include management of livestock and wild horses to prevent their interference with the bird and habitat restoration projects, officials said.

    What a creative way to package getting rid of wild horses. 🙁

    Update 1 – Sage Grouse in California, Nevada Excluded From Federal Protection

  3. avatar Ralph Maughan says:

    ABC news covered this story today. Western Watersheds Project California Director, Michael Connor, was quoted. He said federal officials considered the bird a priority for protections just last year. [Now] “The Service’s backpedalling in claiming that unfinished management plans and voluntary, cooperative agreements will protect the species is untrue and smacks of political expediency.”

  4. avatar Ida Lupine says:

    Do they plan on sharing this restoration plan (and the ‘sound science’ it is based on!) that seemed to miraculously restore the birds overnight?

    It sounds like it is going to be the same old, same old – bulldozing down pinyon-juniper forests and getting rid of wild horses. Meanwhile, no change for habitat encroachment, development, mining and energy butting right up against nesting sites, and trampling by more and more cattle – and of course seizing of all water. How can any person with a functioning brain believe this tripe. It’s the same reasoning as killing wolves to preserve woodland caribou.

    An interesting comment by a HCN subscriber and paper:

    http://www.phytologia.org/uploads/2/3/4/2/23422706/933360-387lannerpinyonjunipernevada.pdf

  5. avatar Joanne Favazza says:

    Sally Jewell and USFWS are political whores. Seems their only mission is to ensure that wildlife and wild places never get in the way of special interest profits.

  6. avatar Gary Humbard says:

    For those of you who are open minded and REALLY want to know how the USFWS came to the decision to not list this DPS, here are some documents that are very informative. The Executive Summary on the first document is a general overview and with all PDF files, you can right click the far upper right corner and do a “find” for specific words in a document.

    Problems are best solved by comprehensive approaches and the first document confronts all of the issues adversely affecting this DPS and why listing is not recommended.

    http://www.ndow.org/uploadedFiles/ndoworg/Content/Nevada_Wildlife/Sage_Grouse/Bi-State-Action-Plan.pdf

    http://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2014/1165/pdf/ofr2014-1165.pdf

    http://www.werc.usgs.gov/ProjectSubWebPage.aspx?SubWebPageID=2&ProjectID=215&List=SubWebPages&Web=Project_215&Title=Bi-State

  7. avatar Ida Lupine says:

    It is all fascinating and unexpected. Hillary is not Bill; and what she’s got a lot of is experience, and how things work in DC. She’ll give them a good challenge (and hopefully kick some butts), which I don’t think the other Democratic candidates have, in all the clamor about Elizabeth Warren for example. People may not be sure about another Clinton in the White House, but they have to separate Hillary from Bill.

    It’s high time that America had a female President – other nations have had women leaders for centuries. If she runs, I’m voting for her.

    • avatar timz says:

      “and what she’s got a lot of is experience, and how things work in DC.”

      She sure does, just look at her bank account.

  8. avatar Ida Lupine says:

    Oops, that should read if she stays in the game, I’m voting for her. She is running.

    People will consider all of her ‘scandals’ and weigh them against Republican scandals and potential sins – and may the best leader win.

    It will be thrilling to have a woman President, especially in a country that considers itself a world leader and progressive.

    Go Hillary!

  9. avatar Ida Lupine says:

    As GOP Pushes Listing Delay, Sage Grouse Numbers Have Tumbled – Report

    “Greater sage grouse numbers fell by more than half from 2007 to 2013 across the western United States, according to a newly released study by leading sage grouse scientists.”

    http://www.eenews.net/assets/2015/04/24/document_daily_03.pdf

    • avatar Ida Lupine says:

      It’s disturbing as well that these birds are still allowed to be hunted? If anything needs to change and immediate action is needed, cancel all hunting of them, at least until the ‘state and industry management plans’ have shown some real results.

      I don’t believe we can have it all.

  10. avatar Gary Humbard says:

    I provided documents indicating the hard work that BLM, USFS, the states of California and Nevada and other partners are doing to protect and restore the bi-state sage grouse and so far no responses.

    Many of you on this site expound the importance of using the best available science regarding wildlife (which I heartily agree), but when the science doesn’t agree with your position, its heartless and political. Can’t have it both way folks, that’s called hypocritical!

    • avatar Ida Lupine says:

      Correct me if I am wrong – but it doesn’t appear to be working (science says otherwise, the number of birds is the lowest in decades), is weighted to much in favor of human activities, and there is no requirement for human interests to do anything of the things suggested.

      The special interests involved only want to keep the bird of the endangered list – they won’t do anything significant to protect habitat and increase populations as a priority. Only the effect on state economies is of importance.

      • avatar Ida Lupine says:

        I also think all hunting of these birds should be cancelled for the foreseeable future. It would seem an obvious sacrifice to make.

    • avatar skyrim says:

      Gary, you caught me catching up on this issue and I was about to post under your comments above.
      Questions (if you don’t mind):
      1) Are you currently employed by BLM, USFWS or the Forest Service?
      2) If yes to any of the above, is PR part of your job description?

      As to your comments about hypocrites, may I suggest that that is a 2 way street. I for one confess that I do not have all information on this singular issue, but I do not believe the governmental agencies who suggest this bird is not deserving of protection are not motivated by political influences. When my own Representative: Jason Chaffitz (R) Utah proclaims that the only place these birds should be listed is on the menu of a French Bistro is very telling on both his individual stupidity and the power of politics.
      I have stated before that I admire your loyalty, but my own loyalty follows the truth and not the popular position of my current or former employer.

      • avatar Gary Humbard says:

        Skyrim, I’m a former BLM employee who was responsible for making sure the agencies’ environmental documents were legally defensible. That meant using the best available information; including studies, modeling, surveys etc. During my 37 year career experience, I can tell you unequivocally, that due to conservation and environmental organizations keeping the agencies responsible for assuring laws and policies were met, politics in decision making was essentially a non-factor.

        I personally have no interest in what politicians say or do. My interest is what people “on the ground” are discovering and if necessary doing to make positive changes to the resources. My loyalty also seeks the truth and that’s why I provide links to better inform those who are interested in the specific issue. Trust me, I have seen the BLM make plenty of mistakes, but as Ida pointed out, the federal land management agencies today are hit from both sides and that only makes their on the ground management decisions better.

        • avatar timz says:

          “that due to conservation and environmental organizations keeping the agencies responsible for assuring laws and policies were met,”

          Too bad they often have to do that by taking them to court and beating them there, because laws and policies were in fact not met.

        • avatar timz says:

          “politics in decision making was essentially a non-factor.”

          And there isn’t a person on this blog other than yourself that doesn’t think that is absolute bull$hit.

    • avatar JB says:

      Gary:

      The ESA demands that a species be listed if it is in danger of extinction or likely to become so in all or a significant portion of its range. The fact (yes I agree!) that the BLM the USFS and private partners are doing things to protect the sage grouse is great! But putting a few UNTESTED agreements in place is not necessarily sufficient to reverse course. Indeed, a scientific approach would be to evaluate the actual effectiveness of such policies before making a determination rather than simply assuming that the agreements/measures/actions will be sufficient to guarantee protections.

      For the second time in recent memory, I agree with Timz. If you truly believe that politics play no role, you are deluding yourself.

  11. avatar Ida Lupine says:

    There are a lot of ‘educational opportunities’ and assessments of what ‘may’ contribute to loss of habitat and population decline, and what may be ‘considered’ in order to protect them – but no enforcement. Everything is in favor of human interests first.

    It appears that nothing has even gotten started yet, at least for Utah:

    Stewart Introduces Bill (On Thursday)to Protect Sage Grouse and Prevent Endangered Listing

    (Proposed)Sage Grouse Protection and Conservation Act House Bill 20150423 Introduced by Rep. Chris Stewart

    • avatar Ida Lupine says:

      I should say that I do appreciate Gary’s comments and his experience and do not fault the agencies, because I know they get hammered with criticism from all sides – but am skeptical of the intent of the special interests and politicians involved, esp. if wolf ‘management’ is any indication.

  12. avatar Gary Humbard says:

    Skyrim, I need to clarify that federal land management agencies (BLM and USFS) decisions are not based on politics, but, unfortunately, federal regulatory agencies (USFWS and NMFS) decisions are definitely subject to politics. Since these are the agencies that list species, they dictate how the BLM and USFS manage the species and its habitat.

  13. avatar Ida Lupines says:

    And one more thing:

    http://www.sfgate.com/news/science/article/No-sage-grouse-hunting-in-North-Dakota-for-8th-6235636.php

    “A spring survey found a record-low 30 males on six strutting grounds, according to the state Game and Fish Department. Last year, 31 males were counted on the same leks in the southwestern part of the state.

    I wasn’t aware of this – good for North Dakota! Eight straight years – it must just go to show how bad the ruination of habitat is by energy development, etc. So it isn’t going to be a quick turnaround in sage grouse population or an easy thing to fix – the words ‘Herculean effort’ spring to mind. Bumping off a few ravens isn’t going to do it.

    As far as wolves – ‘Washington would like the chance to show that they can manage wolves without the Feds looking over their shoulder’. Well, history isn’t on your side, past or very recent. Your friends in the Rocky Mountain and Great Lakes states have made people extremely wary of any kind of states management of wildlife that claims to protect wolves, or any other wildlife.

    If one didn’t know better today, they’d think that besides rolling back the ESA, the Migratory Bird Act, and Wild Horses and Burros Act – they’d like to roll back the Civil Rights Act too!

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‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey

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