At the turn of the century, it seemed inevitable that the greater sage grouse would be listed under the Endangered Species Act.
Alarmed, public lands users with varied agendas came together to prevent that from happening. They developed a plan — the core area strategy — and designated core areas to protect. While far from perfect, we had a working compromise and a path in place to avoid future listing.
Now, those years of effort are being threatened by BLM lease sales in the Golden Triangle. BLM’s present priorities — established in Washington — are likely to threaten even more areas. Citizens in Wyoming, including lawmakers and the governor, need to do everything within our power to demand the feds honor our homegrown conservation compromise.
With all due respect to Gov. Gordon and his assertion that we should “stay the course” and rely on our existing plan to protect grouse populations, Wyoming’s sage grouse plan has just been “slipped a Micky” by the acting Interior Secretary, David Bernhardt, a former oil-and-gas lobbyist. The oil-and-gas industry has long railed against the restrictions that accompany sage grouse conservation measures. Overriding those restrictions has been one of their priorities and now they have one of their own running the department that can do so.
According to a CNN investigative report Bernhardt’s former clients have received at least 15 favorable decisions from his agency, including sage grouse regulation rewrites. The D.C.-driven decision to lease the Golden Triangle looks very much like more of the same.
As Brian Rutledge of the Audubon Society noted to WyoFile the Interior Department and BLM have failed to honor their end of the bargain. In other words, though our newly minted governor may prefer to stay the course, that’s no longer an option. That course has already been abandoned by the feds.
According to Tom Christiansen, former sage grouse coordinator for Wyoming Game and Fish, more than 800 male grouse strut on the leks in the Golden Triangle. All biologists know that there should be no surface occupancy in priority core areas like this.
For, once a lek has been destroyed, it is gone forever. Leks and the adjacent nesting areas must be protected or the attendant population in that lek will disappear.
This should not be a political or partisan issue in Wyoming. If the species gets listed under the ESA — either because the population continues to decline, or simply because we’ve reneged on the agreed terms of keeping it off the list — limitations will be placed on all uses of the habitat where they live. The consequences will ripple through the entire Wyoming economy and be borne by all Wyomingites. It is in the best interest of all citizens in Wyoming to protect sage grouse. That is also true of mule deer and other species that may soon be in the same situation, if we aren’t vigilant and protective of their habitats.
There is a widely held belief that multiple-use management is appropriate everywhere — that with stipulations and seasonal restrictions animals and their habitat will be OK. Multiple use can’t happen everywhere, if we are going to protect valuable resources, special places and iconic wildlife in Wyoming.
Special areas like that Golden Triangle, the Serengeti areas north of Baggs and the upper Green River Basin are home to innumerable species. Yet, mule deer, antelope and sage grouse continue to be stressed by industrial development. We have multiply used many areas to near death.
Here in Wyoming the development of our sage grouse plan was shepherded by Tom Christiansen. Since 2004, he traveled the state helping the various regional working groups organize, develop standards and identify core areas to protect. I was a member of one such group in Rawlins. The Legislature periodically has allocated money to implement that plan. Those who worked on the plan came from all walks of life with varied agendas to prevent the sage grouse from being listed.
Tom continued his work until his retirement this last year. There is no greater sage grouse expert in Wyoming than Tom Christiansen. Wyoming entrusted him with the local and state working groups on sage grouse for nearly 20 years. We need to trust his judgment now.
Though local BLM employees and biologist worked on both the statewide sage grouse plan and, more recently, the oil-and-gas leasing plans, and provided valuable assistance, they were constrained by marching orders from above — prioritize energy development above all other values.
I am a member of the South Central Sage Grouse Group and have a history of working cooperatively in many arenas of conservation. I have seen great success when working with individual people on the land. But when BLM and industry are at the table, success can become more difficult.
For, the Achilles heel of the sage grouse plan is that agency people are constrained by politics and corporate industries that have no human concept of honor. They solely exist to make money for their stockholders. We are naive to expect them to have human consciences. Agency and industry representative are often friends and neighbors, but we often forget that they do what their administrators allow.
Consequently, the people in Wyoming need to develop a backbone and fight to protect the plans that we developed to protect our wildlife resources. States’-rights rhetoric dominates the political scene in Wyoming and yet now we are bowing to the manipulative politics of the federal government.
If we don’t stand united in support of Wyoming’s sage-grouse plan, any kind of consensus cooperative groups reached will be history. The trust will be gone. We must oppose these destructive end-runs by industry and politicians.