Remember the sage grouse? People groused because the U.S. Department of Interior Fish and Wildlife Service determined most populations of western sage grouse are threatened enough to earn listing as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act — but then refused to list the bird, because other plants and animals are even more threatened, and need attention sooner. (I was one of those people complaining.)
It’s a new administration. U.S. Department of Agriculture offered $16 million for projects to protect the bird’s habitat. This ruling put increased pressure on state wildlife agencies, in an interesting if not unique twist of the issue of federalism, state vs. federal responsibility for wildlife and wild lands. Wyoming wants $3 million right away, for projects mostly on private land.
In other words, the administration will sometimes find ways to do the right thing without doing the most difficult or controversial thing. Ranchers and energy developers cheered by original decision are also happy about Ag’s proposed spending. Environmentalists unhappy with the first ruling shouled be cheered by Ag’s action, too. State agencies that worked hard to make the case for listing the bird may be cheered, also.
Readers of the Las Vegas Sun learned about the program last week — the Sun has covered the sage grouse as part of its coverage of alternative energy programs. Much sage grouse habitat in Nevada overlaps wind energy and geothermal energy development zones.
Ranchers across the west are being offered millions of dollars in aid from the federal government to make their operations more environmentally sustainable and reduce their impact on the sage grouse the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced today.
“USDA will take bold steps to ensure the enhancement and preservation of sage grouse habitat and the sustainability of working ranches and farms in the western United States,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. “Our targeted approach will seek out projects that offer the highest potential for boosting sage-grouse populations and enhancing habitat quality.”
The Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service will soon begin accepting applications for two federal programs aimed at reducing threats to the birds such as disease and invasive species and improving sage-grouse habitat. The agency will have up to $16 million at its disposal for the programs.
The Wilderness Habitat Incentive Program provides up to 75 percent cost-share assistance to create and improve fish and wildlife habitat on private and tribal land.
Sage grouse face a difficult future. State wildlife management agencies face a tough future, too, in trying to save the birds. The nation needs energy resources found, often, where the sage grouse need lands to meet, mate and raise their young. It’s a difficult balancing act.
- Idaho Statesman editorial, “It’s up to us”
- Grand Teton National Park temporarily closed an area to protect the mating rituals of the bird
- ‘Sage grouse saga not over,’ Idaho Mountain Express and Guide (Sun Valley)
- Matthew Potter at B-Net explains the grouse-energy development conflict
- Ralph Maughan’s Wildlife News covers these western issues particularly well