Editorial: Governor trying to tackle sage grouse issue

In October the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to designate as threatened — under the terms of the Endangered Species Act — the bi-state greater sage grouse found along the northern California-Nevada border, supposedly a distinct population segment of about 5,000 birds.

At the time it was suggested this move did not bode well for the rest of the state and the 10 other states where the greater sage grouse live. The bi-state grouse designation would set aside nearly 1.9 million acres in Carson City, Lyon, Douglas, Mineral and Esmeralda counties in Nevada, as well as land in Alpine, Mono and Inyo counties in California, as critical habitat. This could lead to restrictions on mining, grazing, farming, fences, oil and gas exploration, roads, power lines, wind turbines and solar panels, various forms of recreation and more — costing jobs and economic development.
Apparently, Gov. Brian Sandoval had similar fears. He has written a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewel saying he was “deeply disappointed and concerned” that the federal agency cast aside the state’s years-long effort to protect the sage grouse, especially since the bi-state grouse “have exhibited a stable-to-increasing trend in Nevada, and monitored leks in California have displayed record- to near-record-high numbers.”
Sandoval said the proposed listing of the bi-state grouse “raises serious concerns about the sincerity of USFWS in working with states to development programs that can help protect species, while avoiding the need to list under the ESA.”

The Sagebrush Ecosystem Council, created by the 2013 Nevada Legislature, has been trying to find ways to convince Fish and Wildlife that the greater sage grouse and its habitat can be protected without resorting to listing under the Endangered Species Act, which creates so many arbitrary restrictions on land use.

This sounds like the governor has his doubts about whether any effort will satisfy the Washington bureaucrats bent on locking up more and more Western land and keeping out the citizens and economic development.
His letter points out that the Fish and Wildlife proposal for listing the bi-state grouse essentially endorses the state’s own action plan. “The proposed listing will not enhance or expedite conservation actions for the (bi-state grouse); it will call for the same conservation measures we have already identified,” Sandoval writes. “What then will the federal government accomplish through this proposed listing, other than alienating the groups who have been working so diligently on this issue for more than a decade and taking management responsibility of this species away from the states?”
The Reno Gazette-Journal quoted Ted Koch, Nevada director for Fish and Wildlife, who was dismissive of the governor’s concerns, and made a ludicrous statement about linking the handling of the bi-state sage grouse to the greater sage grouse: “Given they are both sage grouse and experience similar threats, they are parallel. Procedurally, there is zero nexus — like ants and elephants.”
Fish and Wildlife has been known to alter the data to satisfy its environmental constituency, who balk at the idea of killing one species to protect another. The agency lists predators low on its threat scale for sage grouse, even though in 1989, Nevada Department of Wildlife planted 1,400 chicken eggs in 200 simulated grouse nests during the 15-day period when sage hens lay their eggs. All the eggs were destroyed by predators, mostly ravens.

The state should attack this problem from all fronts, including filing suit in federal court to point out the duplicity of the federal agencies making decisions that should be, and already have been, made by the states and counties. — TM

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