WASHINGTON - Key House Republicans are challenging the Interior Department’s process to list the sage grouse as an endangered species, an action that would have devastating effects in Colorado blocking millions of acres of land from oil, gas and other development.
The federal agency should be focused on the science that is required before placing the birds on the contentious list and not on the whims of environmental groups, say Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee and Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Colo.).
Hastings raised questions of scientific integrity in a recent letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Fish and Wildlife Director Dan Ashe and demanded that they submit documentation to Congress backing up their listing decision, and to also explain the government’s lack of deference to ongoing conservation efforts by the affected states including Colorado.
The listing is part of a lawsuit settlement agreement the Obama administration struck with environmental groups.
“It is concerning that this significant project, which describes as its strategic vision to preclude the need to list sage-grouse, has instead become the latest example of the department’s agenda being driven by litigation, closed-door settlements and court deadlines, rather than guided by sound science and the best available data and information,” Hastings said in the letter.
The sage grouse population in Colorado and Utah is estimated at 5,000, yet 1.7 million acres of land including private holdings are under consideration to be listed as critical habitat for the birds, meaning federal approval would be required for many activities on the affected property.
“Colorado has been a leader in sage grouse recovery and I believe that the best course of action would be to allow the state to continue its species recovery efforts,” Tipton said.
Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) was one of several lawmakers who asked the government to extend the public comment period so residents and businesses would have more time to consider the listing. Federal officials said they are operating under a limited time window to conduct the listing process, but agreed to three additional weeks of input that will end on April 2.
Because of the tight deadline, Tipton said, “it is critical that the agency conduct a thorough economic impact analysis as required under the Endangered Species Act and not just check the box with respect to this obligation.”
“Doing so will help ascertain how this federal action would affect local businesses including energy development, and farming and ranching operations. I encourage the Fish and Wildlife Service to take into account all public comments submitted during this period, and closely consider the recommendations of those that live in the local communities most affected,” Tipton said.
Dan Kish, senior vice president for policy at the Institute for Energy Research in Washington, D.C., said the federal government is hiding behind the secret agreement it made with environmentalists to create new approaches to seizing control of private land.
“Chairman Hastings’ investigation into what is happening with the sage grouse agreement is hugely important for Colorado ranchers, farmers, energy producers and the growing number of citizens who believe these sweetheart deals between the greens and power-hungry Washington empire-builders are made deliberately to thwart the Constitutional separation of powers,” Kish said.
“The administration has already reduced energy production on government lands and waters while private and state lands are breaking all records for increases. The Endangered Species Act allows them to extend their reach into state and private lands, which is why they use it,” Kish added.
“The Obama administration’s abuse of the law in these settlements far outstrips any presidential administration in history, and Americans need the facts before this coup is completed,” Kish said.