Congress blocks sage grouse listing
June 24, 2015
Craig — In December, Congress passed a federal spending bill containing a provision that prohibits the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from issuing any listing rules related to the greater sage grouse.
In other words, Fish and Wildlife cannot list the bird as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act come Sept. 30.
"Congress has kind of constrained our decision space, so we can deliver one of two findings," said Fish and Wildlife Public Affairs Specialist Theo Stein. "One of them is status quo — still a candidate — and the other is that enough work has been done in the last five years that it no longer needs the protection of the act."
Fish and Wildlife is following through on its mandate from a 2011 settlement to determine whether the bird is warranted or not warranted for listing. However, regardless of its findings, nothing will change come September in the management of the bird or its habitat.
"Regardless of what the decision is on Sept. 30, this bird will still be a state-managed bird and will not have the protections that come with a threatened or endangered listing," Stein said.
The provision is one of several moves made by legislators in what has become something of a chess match between Congress, federal agencies, state governments and local agencies intertwined in the bird's fate.
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Though the bill technically expires on Sept. 30 — the same as Fish and Wildlife’s decision deadline — the reality is that such provisions are often carried forward into the new appropriations bill, Stein explained.
Other legislative actions in progress attempting to block listing of the bird include:
• The Sage Grouse Protection and Conservation Act, introduced to the Senate by U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, and to the House by U.S. Rep. Stewart, R-Utah, which would prohibit Fish and Wildlife from making a listing determination of the greater sage grouse for at least six years and requires the Bureau of Land Management to halt their planning process and wait to adopt the State plans instead, according to Jessica Kershaw, Senior Adviser & Press Secretary for the U.S. Department of the Interior;
• Rider no. 1709 to the House National Defense Authorization Act would delay a listing for 10 years and require the BLM and U.S. Forest Service to implement state conservation plans instead of proposed agency plans for at least 10 years, as well as give states the power to veto plan provisions they think are inconsistent with the state plans, Kershaw confirmed in an email. The Senate NDAA bill passed clean of any such provisions.
• The FY2016 Interior Appropriations Act in both the House and Senate maintain the current provision that precludes Fish and Wildlife from spending money on issuing a listing rule for greater sage grouse, effective through Sept. 30, 2016. The bill is expected to be voted on next week.
Though the threat of a possible listing was what galvanized the unprecedented landscape-scale conservation effort that we see unfolding now, it is a moot point for the immediate future.