Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., has introduced legislation he says would force the federal government to take responsibility for failing to do the things that would prevent the sage grouse from being labeled as endangered.
The bill comes just a couple of weeks before the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to issue a final determination on listing the bird and declaring 1.86 million acres in 11 Western states as critical habitat.
“The bill was drafted to address a dilemma faced by Nevada, where 84 percent of the sage grouse habitat is owned by the federal government, yet federal land-management agencies, which have requested almost no funding to carry out habitat preservation and restoration, attempt to pass the burden of funding on to the state and private landowners,” he said.
He said the bird’s No. 1 threat is wildfire but that the federal agencies that own the land haven’t pushed for the funding to conserve resources, prevent fires and prevent an endangered species listing. Instead, he said, federal officials “point fingers in an attempt to saddle state and private landowners with the responsibility for funding projects that are absolutely the responsibility of the federal government.”
He called that “nothing more than extortion.”
Amodei also pointed out that habitat-management projects are subject to regulations requiring, in some cases, years of environmental policy act process.
“Clearly, waiting for years for permission from yourself to do habitat preservation and restoration makes no sense,” he said.
He said his legislation would require the federal government to pay its fair share of conservation work before listing a species, raising the money by selling off small parcels, then distributing that money in states with 33 percent federal land or more. Nevada is some 86 percent federal land.
The bill would require more transparency in reviewing listed species, including a cost-benefit analysis, and would extend protections to private land owners who have property designated as critical habitat. It would deem any federal restrictions on the use of private lands a taking and mandate fair value compensation to the owner.
“Federal land managers cannot continue to pretend that they have no financial responsibility to lead by example in protecting and restoring the vast majority of safe hen habitat they own in Nevada and the West,” he said. “This bill would correct the attempt to make others pay for federal land habitat work and help to reverse the present treatment of the western states.”
The battle to prevent sage grouse from being listed as endangered has been going on for years, beginning when Kenny Guinn was governor. State officials say listing the bird would impose restrictions on both public and private lands in Nevada that would cripple the mining and livestock industries and seriously reduce public recreational access to the wilderness.
The agency plans to announce its final decision on or before April 28.