One year after the historic decision not to list the greater sage grouse for endangered species protection, retailers, outfitters, and gear manufacturers from across the country call on Congress to let sage grouse conservation work
Today, more than 100 hunting, fishing, and wildlife-related businesses are asking lawmakers to block attempts to undo collaborative conservation efforts that benefit the greater sage grouse.
As representatives of a $646-billion outdoor recreation industry that depends on sportsmen having access to healthy fish and wildlife habitat, business owners from 14 states have sent a letter that calls on Congressional leadership to oppose language or riders to any legislation that would force the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to abandon their own sage grouse conservation plans in favor of plans developed by the states.
Almost exactly one year ago, on September 22, 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that the range-wide population of greater sage grouse did not warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act, following historic collaboration by federal and state agencies, industry, private landowners, sportsmen, and other stakeholders. This achievement, business leaders write, “should also be seen as a boon for business.”
However, some in Congress are attempting to derail the process by crafting language meant to block the federal conservation plans and attaching it to the only legislation moving in Washington, D.C.—the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and appropriations bills that keep the federal government operating.
“Sportsmen and outdoor business owners across the country are disappointed that Congress continues to play politics with our national defense and other must-pass legislation by attempting to insert unrelated and detrimental language about sage-grouse conservation into bills,” says Ryan Callaghan, marketing manager for First Lite, a hunting clothing company based in Ketchum, Idaho. “Healthy sagebrush is important not only for sage grouse, but also for mule deer, pronghorns, and elk, and to our customers that pursue these species each fall.”
Ed Arnett, senior scientist for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, adds that if language contained in the riders were to become law, it would throw into question decades of statutory precedent, several environmental laws, and the subsequent legal decisions around those laws. “Federal, state, and private landowner efforts are all needed to create on-the-ground results for sage grouse, and the Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision last fall was predicated on all of these plans working in concert,” says Arnett. “Implementation must be allowed to continue.”
Business owners across the Western U.S. are counting on it. “There’s a lot that goes on in Congress that is confusing, frustrating or seemingly unrelated to what we care about as sportsmen, but when your bottom line—not to mention the activities you love and hope to pass on to your grandkids—depends on the health of an entire ecosystem, you pay attention,” says Melissa Herz of Herz Gun Dogs in Bend, Oregon. “We can’t allow the sagebrush landscape, vibrant with 350 species of plants and animals that rely on the same habitat as sage grouse, to become just a pawn in a political game, and we cannot waver on conservation plans that were put in place for good reason.”
The House version of the NDAA has already passed with provisions that would be detrimental to sage grouse conservation. The Senate is expected to consider its version of the bill, which does not include any language on sage grouse, in the coming weeks. Sportsmen’s groups and businesses have made it clear to lawmakers that the best thing they can do for sage grouse is ensure that state and federal land managers get the resources they need to implement their respective plans and that conservation efforts on private lands continue.
Undoing federal conservation plans might be the best way to ensure a listing, which is bad news for just about everyone.