Conservation Colorado: Giving for the sage grouse
December 20, 2013
By this point in the Holiday season, plenty of folks are wondering how exactly we as a society have diverged so far away from the intent of these holidays, both in the religious sense as well as the general philosophic underpinnings. No longer is the prime narrative one of giving thanks to those who enrich our lives and appreciation for what you have, instead we're bombarded with propaganda that more is better and we can spend our way to happiness if we just buy the right thing, right now.
So instead of buying Little Timmy that fishing pole so he might better appreciate the outdoors and learn how to put a little food on the table, we get him the latest video game because that's what he really wants. That fishing pole might not be the proverbial silver bullet to make Timmy a better kid, but it'll help him get some exercise outdoors and maybe understand the world around him a bit more.
The sad truth is that the same sentiment is pervasive in the political and public policy world. Instead of passing legislation or developing and implementing policies that we need, we see the superfluous and ideologically driven projects given the greatest attention.
This very phenomenon is playing out over the Bureau of Land Management's Greater Sage Grouse Plan. We have entities like Garfield County spending hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to fight some of the best-accepted science developed on sage grouse because they don't like what it tells them. This science is informing us what the sage grouse needs in order to prevent further population declines. In some area that means keeping oil and gas operations away from sage grouse breeding and nesting areas and limiting the density of development.
So while some don't want to see additional safeguards placed on oil and gas development in sage grouse habitat, they're the right thing to do, right now. Just as with Timmy's fishing pole, those protections will have numerous tangential benefits, none more so that protecting the habitat for a wealth of other critters that rely on sagebrush habitat. Over 350 other species utilize sagebrush, including a number of sensitive species as well as economically and culturally important animals like mule deer, pronghorn and elk. Conserving habitat for sage grouse is an investment against any future Endangered Species Act listings for those species as well as ensuring we continue to be home to robust big game herds that so many visitors come to chase and see.
Luckily, it seems that Gov. John Hickenlooper has finally seen that same investment opportunity, taking the initiative to try and come up with a plan that will satisfy everyone. As with anything in politics, there are no guarantees for success. However, just like that fruitcake you get from Aunt Gertrude every year, the thought does count. In this case, it shows that the governor understands the importance of this planning process and the need for new conservation-based management, as well as the desire to listen to those that live in the far-flung places that will live with the new plan.
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As for me this Christmas, I'm not asking for swans swans-a-swimming, six geese-a-laying, four colly birds, three French hens, two turtle doves or even a partridge in a juniper, let alone a pear tree. Instead, I'm asking for everyone to be willing to give support to BLM plan that will utilize the best available science to protect the Greater sage grouse. If that happens, maybe some Little Timmy 20 years from now will get his first shotgun at Christmas so he can chase healthy populations of sage grouse in the fall and maybe put a bird on the table for Christmas dinner.
Luke Schafer is the West Slope advocacy director for Conservation Colorado.