Sage Grouse Protection Argued
July 1, 2016

The fight over federal efforts to protect the greater sage grouse and its dwindling habitat rose this week during a hearing held by a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee panel. Republican lawmakers from western states, including Sens. Steve Daines (Mont.), Mike Lee (Utah) and John Barrasso (Wyo.), criticized the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service's strategy to safeguard the species as a top-down approach that isn't well coordinated with states.

"These one-size-fits-all policies cripple public access to public lands and disenfranchise those who have a vested interest in healthy resources," Barrasso, chairman of the subcommittee on public lands, forests and mining, said in his opening statement.

The energy and livestock industries are particularly concerned about updates to land-use plans, and BLM has ignored ranchers' contributions to protecting the sage grouse, said Brenda Richards, president of the Public Lands Council, which represents cattle and sheep producers that have federal grazing permits.

"Rather than embracing grazing as a resource and tool for conservation benefit, these plan-amendments impose arbitrary restrictions to satisfy requirements for newly minted objectives," she said. "Wildfire, invasive species and infrastructure are the major threats to sage grouse habitat and they are all most effectively managed through grazing."

Jim Lyons, deputy assistant secretary of land and minerals management at the Interior Department, defended the plans, saying they were "years in the making" and based on "extensive" coordination and engagement with states and other stakeholders, according to prepared testimony. They also provide flexibility "to be responsive to the unique landscapes, habitats, priorities and approaches in each state."

The American Farm Bureau Federation and its Utah branch this week filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit against the administration's efforts to protect the greater sage grouse. The suit, brought by the State of Utah in a Utah federal court, contends that BLM and the USFS illegally imposed restrictions on ranchers' ability to use federal acres for grazing, as well as on other activities, when it developed land-use plans to conserve the bird's habitat.

Reprinted in part from