Thursday, September 24, 2015

FWS chief touts 'unanimous' agency support for grouse decision

Phil Taylor, E&E reporter

 The Fish and Wildlife Service's decision this week not to list the greater sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act was supported unanimously within its ranks and was not influenced by political pressure, Director Dan Ashe said.

Ashe said there was no disagreement among his top deputies -- all of them career FWS employees -- that new regulations implemented by federal lands agencies and Western states had adequately addressed the bird's top threats, including energy development, wildfire and invasive species.
Those assertions could carry weight if the service's decision is challenged in federal court.
Ashe on Monday signed a 341-page document explaining the agency's reasoning for not listing the bird in what many agree was the biggest decision in ESA history.

...He noted that 10 project field office supervisors, three assistant regional directors, three regional directors, an assistant director and two deputy directors had all reached the same conclusion about the sage grouse.

...In an interview yesterday, Ashe added that the decision was made wholly within FWS, with no influence from Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.

...If the decision is challenged in court, the agency will likely have to explain why it no longer believes, as it did in 2010, that the bird warrants ESA protection due to the loss of its sage-steppe habitat and an absence of regulations that could slow or halt further losses.

FWS's reasoning: New land-use restrictions developed by BLM, the Forest Service, and Wyoming, Montana and Oregon have reduced threats on roughly 90 percent of sage grouse breeding habitat across the species's range.

To say the Secretary didn't interfere is one thing, but that political issues weren't considered is quite another. The reaction of the majority in Congress and the potential impact on the future of the ESA had to be considered. Besides, you know some of the DC Deep Thinkers were saying, "Hey, why anger the Congress, threaten our budget and the Act, when more than likely the courts will throw out the plans for not being restrictive enough anyway?"

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