Agreeing that the state can’t afford the damage that could be caused by a federal listing of the sage grouse as endangered, the legislative Interim Finance Committee voted Thursday to approve about $300,000 to hire staff dedicated to a state-level effort to prevent that listing.The state program was developed by a commission appointed by Gov. Brian Sandoval and headed by Carson City Mayor Bob Crowell. State Conservation and Natural Resources Director Leo Drozdoff told lawmakers the goal is to demonstrate as soon as possible to the federal Fish and Wildlife Service that the state is on top of protecting the bird and that the listing isn’t necessary. Drozdoff said the commission prepared a plan but now the state must act because “a plan’s great but we must be able to show results.” He added the key thing federal authorities want to see is no further decline in the numbers of the birds in their habitat that extends across a wide swath of Nevada as well as Oregon, Idaho, Utah and a total of 11 states in all. Of those states, Wyoming is the only one that doesn’t allow sage grouse hunting.“Our plan is we are going to measure success primarily through the work the Nevada Division of Wildlife is doing,” he said. “They are refining where the best areas are and what’s needed to be done to protect those.”Assemblyman Tom Grady, R-Yerington, said the question he gets from constituents is, if the bird is close to being listed as endangered, “why are we still hunting them.”State Wildlife Director Ken Mayer admitted that seems illogical but that evidence indicates hunting isn’t contributing to the decline of the population. On the other side of the issue, he said hunting tags for the grouse keeps hunters involved in funding efforts to save them. He said every grouse habitat is looked at each year and, if the population is in trouble in one of them, it is closed to hunters.Mayer also said the sportsmen provide information about the grouse population through barrels in which hunters put the birds’ wings. Those barrels, he said, give his staff information on how many male and female birds are shot.“We can actually forecast bird numbers,” he said. “If hunting goes away, I’m not sure how we would get that demographic information.”Mayer and Drozdoff said the commission report correctly states that the prime dangers to the grouse are invasive species such as cheat grass and wildland fires that consume the birds’ habitat. Assemblyman Pete Goicoechea, a Eureka County rancher, said the state program is vital. He and others said if the bird is listed as endangered, it would have serious impacts on mining, the cattle industry, agriculture, energy development and recreation including hunting.“To me this is a huge economic development issue,” said Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas.Asked whether the program should sunset, Drozdoff said no because, for one thing, that would send a bad signal to federal regulators that Nevada isn’t really committed to protecting the grouse on a long-term basis.The state’s share of five positions for the program was calculated at $278,945. In addition, there were other costs totaling $25,535 for a total of just over $300,000.
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