Monday, May 12, 2014

We don't have to pit wildlife against the economy

By Terry Fankhauser and David Festa

 Stop us if you've heard this one before: A rancher, an environmentalist, and an oil company exec walk into a bar. The bartender looks up and asks, "Is this a joke?"

On the surface we may seem like an odd group, but ranchers, energy companies and environmentalists are finding each other willing partners in solving big conservation problems.

Colorado is one of 11 Western states where an iconic rangeland bird, the greater sage grouse, nests in high desert topography that's also perfect ground for cattle ranching. And in recent years, Colorado's booming oil and gas industry has been encroached on the bird's habitat.

That puts the bird's future on a collision course with the state's two largest economic drivers: agriculture and energy. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service faces a 2015 deadline to decide if the greater sage grouse should be protected by an Endangered Species Act listing. Listing could severely crimp both energy production and ranching across a vast territory.

Luckily, in Colorado we have the opportunity to prevent species protection from hindering our economy. The solution lies in Colorado's 31.3 million acres of privately held working lands, many of them prime grouse habitat. Armed with a new way of thinking about species conservation, we've been able to engage those private lands in the solution.

What's needed now is the right plan, one that includes the good work being done at the state level while incorporating a suite of tools that protect wildlife at landscape scale and allow our economy to flourish...

Terry Fankhauser is executive vice president of the Colorado Cattlemen's Association and also serves as a board member and executive director of Partners for Western Conservation. David Festa is vice president of West Coast operations, as well as the national Land, Water and Wildlife Program at Environmental Defense Fund.

No comments: