Sen. Cory Gardner proposes six year delay to fed’s greater sage grouse oversight

Noelle Leavitt Riley
A male greater sage grouse struts early in the morning at a lek, or mating ground, outside of Salt Lake City on April 14 while another watches.
Lauren Blair

— U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., made a huge move Wednesday, proposing a bill that aims at keeping the federal government out the greater sage grouse decisions for the next six years.

“If the (Secretary of Interior) decided to list the species, under my bill the state could opt in to use its own plan,” Gardner told the Daily Press.

He introduced the Sage-Grouse Protection and Conservation Act in the United States Senate, which “represents a continuation of Senator Gardner’s long record of fighting for Colorado’s environment and economy,” according to a press release from Gardner’s office. “The Act would allow states to implement state-created conservation and management plans for the recovery of the greater sage grouse in order to prevent a listing under the Endangered Species Act.”

Gov. John Hickenlooper and his greater sage grouse expert, John Swartout, do not support the legislation, Swartout said, noting that they met with Garnder last week and discussed the issue.

“Sen. Gardner thought his bill was beneficial to us. It was a very good conversation. He’s been really open with what he’s been thinking about. We let the senator know that we’re not in a position to support legislation at this point,” Swartout said.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a federal entity, is currently evaluating the bird to see if it needs federal protection due to a decline in greater sage grouse population over the years. Fish and Wildlife is supposed to formally decide if it wants to list the bird as threatened under the ESA by Sept. 30.

Gardner’s bill would give the 11 states where the greater sage grouse resides an opportunity to boost the bird’s numbers without federal oversight. If the greater sage grouse is listed, the feds will be in charge of such conservation.

However, not everyone is pleased with the proposal, including Conservation Colorado.

“We are extremely disappointed in Senator Gardner’s decision to introduce legislation to further delay the Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing decision for the greater sage grouse,” Conservation Colorado Executive Director Pete Maysmith said in a statement. “This bill is completely unnecessary and only creates more uncertainty for the stakeholders and states that have been working diligently with federal agencies to develop and implement conservation plans to avoid an ESA listing.”

The bill specifically states that the U.S. Department of Interior would have to share scientific data with states, assist states with forming and implementing their plans and recognize each state’s plans for a minimum of six years.

“Coloradans know best how to protect our own precious natural resources,” Garnder said in a statement. “Western states have invested time and resources into developing conservation plans since 2011, and the bipartisan Western Governors Association has repeatedly expressed support for a state-based approach. Now, the time has come for the federal government to allow theses states to put their plans into action, protecting the sage grouse while mitigating any negative effects on jobs and our economy.”

Yet, Conservation Colorado, which has an office in Craig, feels the proposal could cause damage to efforts already put into place.

“Sen. Gardner’s legislation could significantly setback efforts the state of Colorado and diverse stakeholders have heavily invested in to protect the sage grouse and the sagebrush ecosystem. Sen. Gardner should work to support the state plans rather than toss them aside in favor of this bill,” Maysmith said.

Earlier this month, the Western Governors Association released a report that stated efforts to protect the greater sage grouse in its 11-state territory are multiplying.

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