Friday, September 25, 2015

The most endangered resource is trust when it comes to wildlife issues

By Rocky Barker

Duane Coombs exhibited the optimism that every Western rancher and farmer needs to have about the overwhelming challenges they face in the life they love.

Those include drought, fires, floods, disease, poor markets, predators and just bad luck. But most of the ranchers I’ve known have the view that Coombs has: Things are always going to get better next year.

Coombs, who manages the Smith Creek Ranch near Austin, Nev., spoke Tuesday at a news conference in Denver in favor of the massive collaborative conservation plan unveiled this week to protect sage grouse across 173 million acres and 11 states. He told an audience that included four Western governors from both political parties and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell that his 11-year-old daughter Desatoya (Desi for short) has helped him to overcome his own distrust of government while working on the ranch to save the bird his family loves.

“In this little girl’s life, government is her partner,” Coombs said.

Named for a mountain range near the ranch, Desi has watched her father put white streamers on his barbed wire — she calls them “chicken flappers” — to keep the grouse from flying into the fences. One of her best friends is U.S. Geological Survey biologist Katelyn Andrle.

If the American West can take Coombs’ approach to restoring the sage grouse and saving the sagebrush steppe ecosystem, then perhaps it remains “Next Year Country.” But it’s a daunting task.

Energy companies are considering lawsuits because they think the 98 federal land plan amendments that include sage grouse conservation measures are too tough. Environmental groups such as Western Watersheds Project, Advocates for the West and the Center for Biodiversity think the plans don’t go far enough to turn the bird from the path to extinction.

At the heart of both sides’ reservations is the incredible distrust that has evolved over the past 40 years of public lands governance. Each side has valid reasons for their views, but taking that leap of faith that created this “all lands” conservation plan requires challenging their own status quo.

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