RENO — The Nevada Cattlemen’s Association urged its members to deny state Department of Wildlife employees access to private land to protest the agency’s proposals on protecting sage grouse.
The group’s call on Friday for members to avoid cooperating with the wildlife agency came amid anger by some ranchers over what they perceive as anti-grazing sentiments in the plans to safeguard the bird’s habitat.
The wildlife agency supports proposals favored by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management that would financially harm many ranchers, the cattlemen’s association said in a statement urging action against the department.
Federal officials are preparing a strategy to avoid the sage grouse’s listing as an endangered or threatened species. Such a listing would have economic consequences for ranching, mining and alternative energy development across large swaths of land.
“The livestock industry has traditionally worked to find solutions with sportsmen and wildlife advocates but, given the stance of NDOW on this most serious threat to the future of our members, NCA feels compelled to respond in a manner never considered before,” the ranch group’s statement said. “It is with reluctance that such strong action must be taken in order to promote, preserve and protect a dynamic and profitable Nevada beef industry.”
Wildlife department spokesman Chris Healy told the Reno Gazette-Journal that the flap is the result of a “big misunderstanding that can be fixed by continued dialogue.”
“To that end, we have already scheduled a meeting with the board of the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association to explain our position and to remind them of our very good record of cooperation over major issues over the years,” Healy said.
In a Jan. 29 letter to top BLM and U.S. Forest Service officials about the sage grouse, Department of Wildlife staff specialist Shawn Espinosa wrote that “many of our comments reflect concern with livestock grazing.” Espinosa pointed out that only 23 percent of assessed land within federal grazing allotments that contain sage grouse habitat meets rangeland health standards.
Conservationists are concerned that scientists at the wildlife agency are being muffled as the state grapples with the issue.
Experts think 2 million sage grouse inhabited the West when Lewis and Clark first noted them in 1805. Today their numbers are estimated at about 200,000.
Shrinking and fractured habitat is one of the biggest threats to the bird’s survival, scientists say. Wildfires also are blamed for a lot of lost habitat.