Posts tagged: sage grouse
Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A federal judge has ruled that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management once again violated federal laws when it issued grazing permits instead of analyzing how grazing could harm sage grouse in four allotments in south-central Idaho. In a ruling released Monday, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill found that the BLM failed to consider stopping grazing in any of the proposed management plans in the agency's Burley Field Office. The decision is round two of a lawsuit led by conservation group Western Watersheds Project that is challenging nearly 600 BLM grazing allotments spread across southern Idaho. Winmill agreed that the BLM is allowed to automatically renew grazing permits without conducting lengthy environmental reviews. However, it must still comply with federal laws requiring the agency to study rangeland degradation.
When Idaho Gov. Butch Otter led a three-day trail ride last week in the Flint Creek area in Owyhee County, the point was to talk sage grouse, including the state's pending plan to protect the chicken-like bird and try to avoid an endangered species listing. Public comments are being taken on the draft plan through July 13; you can read it and comment here.
About 50 people went on the ride this year, ranging from state and federal resource agency officials to ranchers, farmers and land owners. “There were quite a few Owyhee County cowboys who were on this ride as well,” said Otter's spokesman, Jon Hanian.
The annual ride, which Otter holds in conjunction with the Idaho Cattle Association, is something he started up when he was an Idaho congressman, after a discussion with an eastern legislator in which Otter was trying to explain an Idaho issue and ended up inviting the easterner to his home state to see for himself. “When I represented Idaho's 1st District in Congress, it became apparent that many of my congressional colleagues had a limited understanding of the western issues on which they were voting,” Otter explained in a report on this year's ride. “That's why I started my annual resources trail ride.”
“Each year we pick a different region of the state for the trail ride,” Otter said. “In past years wolves, water, and endangered or invasive species have dominated the discussion.” This year, it was the sage grouse. Owyhee County is among the areas that are affected by a potential sage grouse listing, and by the governor's draft plan to protect the grouse and avoid a listing. “It affects a mix of federal, state and private lands, and that's one of the issues that they were trying to get their arms around,” Hanian said, “and explain to folks not only what the threats are to economic development, way of life, all of that, but also what the state's recommendations are towards dealing with these issues, and letting the feds and everyone else know that we can responsibly manage the situation.”
Said Otter, “The federal government has warned that sage-grouse could be on the fast track towards a listing under the Endangered Species Act. I created a task force earlier this year to identify the delicate balance between ensuring the species' survival while at the same time protecting Idaho's economy and traditional uses of our public lands. My Sage Grouse Task Force delivered its recommendations last month, they now are open for public comment.”
At a joint hearing of the House and Senate Resources committees this afternoon on state-federal oversight and the sage grouse, there was lots of concern that efforts to improve habitat for the unique fowl in order to avoid endangered species listing might be as onerous for ranchers and others as listing itself. As the various presenters spoke, a member of the audience dressed as a big, fuzzy bear nodded thoughtfully. Presenters included Idaho Fish & Game Director Virgil Moore; former U.S. Interior solicitor Bill Myers; and Office of Species Conservation Administrator Nate Fisher. Idaho Statesman reporter Rocky Barker has a full report here.
The sage grouse, whose habitat extends through much of southern Idaho, is listed as “warranted but precluded” from listing as endangered, because the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service ruled that listing it was “precluded by the need to take action on other species facing more immediate and severe extinction threats.” However, it remains on the list of species that are candidates for Endangered Species Act Protection, and its status is reviewed annually. The birds, prized for hunting, are dependent on dwindling sagebrush habitat; they now occupy 56 percent of their historical range.
A federal judge has rejected a challenge from environmental groups seeking to force the federal government to take immediate action to increase protections for the sage grouse; such a move could have curtailed new energy production on public lands across the West, the AP reports. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Ben Neary in Cheyenne.