By Public Lands Council, Safari Club International and Western Energy Alliance
Over the last several years, sportsmen, ranchers, and oil and natural gas companies have worked with federal and state wildlife agencies, and local working groups to develop effective mitigation measures to protect populations of greater sage grouse and improve their habitat.
Together, we have used advanced reclamation and mitigation measures, conservation easements, best management practices and rangeland management strategies to improve prime habitat for the greater sage grouse and livestock.
We also employ long-term monitoring programs and perform studies that inform future decisions, all to ensure that impacts to greater-sage-grouse habitat are avoided, minimized, or mitigated.
Ironically, the productive land users who are often blamed for causing habitat loss and fragmentation are usually the ones doing most of the work to protect local populations, enhance habitats and ensure species survivability.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has been directed by a federal judge to make a final decision on whether to fully list the greater sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act by 2015. The implications are weighing heavily on sportsmen, hunters, private landowners, ranchers, energy developers and other land users across the West.
Given the vast range of the species, a threatened or endangered listing would have enormous economic and social consequences in Western communities.
For users of America’s public lands, the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) future management policies for greater sage grouse are just as significant. BLM recently initiated an effort to implement new sage-grouse protection policies across the West.
In BLM’s rush to develop a comprehensive set of regulations before the Fish and Wildlife Service’s listing decision, we fear that BLM may end up piling on restrictions that actually undermine private conservation of habitat and unnecessarily restrict economic activities and job creation across the entire West.
Fortunately, BLM will allow state-developed conservation policies that have been approved by the Fish and Wildlife Service to supersede its policies.
Wyoming’s plan has already been approved and adopted and other Western states have initiated collaborative efforts to develop their own policies. In order to truly be effective, greater-sage-grouse conservation must be guided by initiatives developed at the state level that are informed by local working groups and affected stakeholders.
Through careful planning that relies on local engagement and sound science, we have demonstrated that grazing, energy development and recreation can coexist with greater sage grouse across its range.
That is why sportsmen, ranchers, oil and natural gas companies and others are already working with states to collaboratively develop management strategies that not only ensure the long-term viability of the greater sage grouse, but also recognize the continued importance of the economic engines of the West.
For example, Safari Club International is working with the Wyoming Land Trust in its efforts to implement on-the-ground conservation projects.
Meaningful sage-grouse management can’t just mean saying ‘no’ to economic activities. It is vital that current private and state sage-grouse conservation efforts are maintained and expanded.
Without sensible state-level management strategies that are informed by local stakeholders, we will be encumbered by federal, one-size-fits all approaches that could have lasting harmful impacts on the economic lifeblood of our region and outdoor heritage.
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