Nevada’s congressional delegation lined up to oppose listing the sage grouse as an endangered species at a meeting with top officials with the U.S. Department of Interior on Wednesday.
Sens. Harry Reid and Dean Heller and Rep. Mark Amodei met with officials to discuss actions that can be taken to help prevent the Endangered Species Act listing of the sage grouse, as well as the negative impact such a listing would have on the economic growth and development of the Silver State.
The “Sage Hen Summit” featured federal land managers and policy makers from the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Rep. Dina Titus joined for the conclusion of the meeting. Reps. Joe Heck and Steven Horsford were unable to attend but sent staffers.
“Conservation and restoration of sagebrush habitat in Nevada and throughout the West is vital to maintaining healthy sage grouse populations and thwarting a threatened or endangered listing that will negatively affect Nevadans and our rural economies,” said Reid. “I look forward to working with the Nevada Congressional delegation, our federal and state agencies, and Nevadans to solve this critical issue.”
“Should the sage grouse be listed as an endangered species, Nevada’s way of life and our state’s economic recovery will be in jeopardy. I am committed to working with Gov. Sandoval and the rest of the delegation to take steps on the federal level that complement and reinforce strategies developed in the state to prevent such a listing,” said Heller.
“In Nevada, wildland fire and invasive species, such as cheatgrass, that follow in its path are responsible for nearly 85 percent of lost sage hen habitat,” said Amodei. “Rather than putting the onus on local stakeholders through regulatory mechanisms to stop habitat loss, the federal government, as the landlord of approximately 85 percent of the state, needs to focus on preventative fuels management before wildfire strikes and habitat restoration following burn events. Multiple use is not the driver of habitat loss.”
Nearly half of the 24,136 acres burned by the Bison fire, which was started by lightning July 4, is considered bi-state greater sage grouse habitat. Federal and state agencies are assessing 11,000 acres of habitat in the Pine Nut Mountains burned in the Bison fire for rehabilitation and stabilization.
Keeping the grouse from being named an endangered species has been a long-term project for Nevadans.
State officials approved spending about $300,000 in October 2012 to fund an effort to show the federal government that Nevada is on top of protecting the bird and that listing it as endangered isn’t necessary.
A report issued by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service said listing the bird was warranted, prompting the Forest Service and the BLM to prepare amendments to their plans to help preserve the bird’s habitat.
The Fish & Wildlife service found that a lack of regulation is a significant threat to the sage grouse.
“The need for the Forest Service and BLM plan amendments stems from the publication of a ‘warranted, but precluded’ Endangered Species Act listing petition … in March of 2010 by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service,” said Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest Supervisor Bill Dunkelberger.
Listing the bird could affect uses on federal lands such as grazing or mining, which could result in increased costs to engage in those activities.
The grouse lives in portions of Lyon, Mineral, Esmeralda and Douglas counties in Nevada, and in portions of Alpine, Inyo and Mono counties in California, according to Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest officials.
The area covers the Bridgeport and Carson ranger districts, which are preparing an environmental impact statement, along with the BLM. Ideas for preserving sage grouse habitat include setting aside areas around sage grouse leks during mating seasons, using vegetation to improve sage grouse habitat, and identifying guidelines for minerals management and other permitted activities to reduce impacts to the sage grouse and its habitat.