Sage Grouse endangered listing at odds with science/local governments

March 14, 2015

Grousing about promises

By Greg Walcher

Mesa County’s decision to join the lawsuit against the listing of the Gunnison sage grouse as “threatened” is the right move. Sometimes the courts are the last resort against bullies.

The controversy over the bird’s listing is not just ironic (we have been here before but reached an agreement to prevent it). It represents one of the worst broken promises in the history of conservation.

The Gunnison Ranchlands Legacy project started in the mid-1990s and thrived through the administrations of four governors of both parties. The state in 2005 completed an agreement with the federal government that allowed landowners to enroll in a program of protective habitat management, with the assurance that their farming practices would not get them into trouble if grouse nests are accidentally disturbed.

As a result, the species was removed from the “candidate” list, and local participation has surpassed any similar program in the United States. All of this investment and local participation was made with the clear understanding that the species would not be added to the federal endangered list. This program was the alternative to that listing.

Habitat partnerships and management agreements are not unique to Colorado, of course. But no other state/local partnership has ever come close to our level of commitment to such a program. Coloradans have invested well over $50 million of state, local, and private money in conservation easements to preserve ranchlands in the Gunnison Basin, and have preserved ore than 64,000 acres of open space, ranchlands, and sage grouse habitat.

That’s a 20-year legacy, including another $3 million last year, and we are proud of it. Besides preserving the historic character of scenic mountain valleys, it demonstrates that species can be protected without heavy-handed federal regulation, while preserving vital local economies. As a member of the Great Outdoors Colorado board, I strongly supported the program for several years and remain proud of that inheritance for future generations.

Ranchers were understandably skeptical, with one final and difficult question: can we trust the government to do what it says? Without that trust, adding a species to the endangered list can actually harm the species, because its habitat is mostly on private land. Landowners, and the state, relied on that trust for a generation. Today, the Gunnison sage grouse population is strong and growing steadily — it is not in danger of extinction by any measure. Still, some national environmental groups and federal officials simply will not give up the “command-and-control” approach.

It is pathetic that decisions of this magnitude are sometimes motivated by lawsuits, not conservation. Yet here we are, faced not only with the listing and the broken promise it represents, but a sad and avoidable end to a proud legacy of conservation efforts in the area. If the goal is to end ranching and stop human activity, the effort will go on endlessly. But if species recovery is the goal, the government is going about it exactly the wrong way.

Read more here:

Greg Walcher is president of the Natural Resources Group and author of “Smoking Them Out: The Theft of the Environment and How to Take it Back.” He is a Western Slope native.

Reposted by  3/14/15

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