Saturday, January 07, 2017

For the sage grouse, much is at stake in the coming year

Few birds are tougher than the greater sage grouse. For millennia, this incredible species has thrived across the sagebrush sea of the West — one of our nation's most unique and imperiled landscapes.
Yet the sage grouse was on the road to extinction less than two years ago — threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation, wildfires and human disturbance of nesting and breeding grounds in 11 Western states. The looming possibility of Endangered Species Act listing spurred a broad coalition of state and federal agencies, Native American tribes, sporting and conservation organizations, industry groups and private landowners to take action.

Together, this coalition created the most ambitious and expansive conservation effort in history – one that continues to improve habitat conditions and reduce threats to the greater sage grouse across millions of acres of public and private lands in the West. Our collective actions haven't just averted the possibility of ESA protection for the sage grouse – they're beginning to benefit people and wildlife at a landscape scale.

We've found that this bird is not only tough; it's resilient. If we give sage grouse the space they need on the landscape, they will thrive. But restoring a complex ecosystem to health requires time and sustained commitment.

In December, the outgoing Congress gave the sage grouse a bit more breathing room. Thanks to the advocacy of sportsmen and others who understand the importance of the sage grouse to the West, both the House and Senate removed measures in the National Defense Authorization Act that could have halted our collective efforts. 

Now more than ever, we need the new Congress to stand with us and support our shared, longterm commitment to sage grouse conservation in the years to come. Because far more than the bird's future is at stake.

The 4.2 million acres of sage grouse habitat in the West provide habitat for more than 350 species of fish and wildlife, including big-game species such as mule deer, pronghorn and elk. Healthy, functional sage grouse habitat also fuels the region's economy, providing jobs, income and recreational opportunities for families across the West. If the health and productivity of the land continues to decline, we risk losing these benefits. 

Dan Ashe is director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Land Tawney is the president and CEO of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers.

As I predicted, more paeans to the ESA, attempting to influence Congress and the Trumpians. The article concludes:
With the support of Congress and the new administration, we will succeed in sustaining the greater sage grouse and our natural heritage for future generations – while also improving the lives of millions of people in communities across the West who rely on this landscape for clean air, water, recreation and their livelihoods.

Now is the time to affirm our shared commitment to a vibrant, healthy American West.

Yes, all that's at stake is 350 species of wildlife, our natural heritage, and "the lives of millions of people in communities across the West." Or looked at another way, what's at stake is the most powerful weapon in the environmentalists' arsenal, one that allows them to control the use of millions of acres of federal, state and private lands. 

Westerners will be watching the Republicans who now control the House, the Senate and the White House. Will they side with the "shared, longterm commitment" to the Endangered Species Act, or will they support reasonable amendments that brings balance back and a "shared, longterm commitment" to private property rights.

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