WASHINGTON — Western lawmakers are collaborating on legislation to block the Interior Department from listing the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act for a decade allowing for states including Colorado to develop conservation plans.
Critics of the rushed proposal to list the species say the affected states have different needs to protect the bird based on unique geographical differences, as well as concerns about the impact on local economies. An estimated two million acres in Colorado would be affected by the proposed listing.
The bill is sponsored by Colorado Republican Rep. Cory Gardner and cosponsored by Colorado Republican Rep. Scott Tipton, as well as key House leaders from Utah and Montana.
The Senate companion measure is sponsored by Republican Sen. Michael Enzi of Wyoming and cosponsored from Senators in Utah and Idaho. Colorado Democratic Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet are not cosponsors.
“By encouraging conservation plans at the state level, those most familiar with the local habitats and economies will be directly involved throughout the species management process,” Gardner said in a statement announcing the bill.
Added Tipton: “If the goal is truly to protect the sage grouse, a one-size-fits all listing out of Washington is not only less effective than locally-tailored plans, but jeopardizes the ongoing work being done in states to preserve and recover the species.”
Meanwhile, the Western Grouse Coalition is lobbying the House Appropriations Committee to tuck a one-year extension on the listing in a spending bill for the 2015 fiscal year.
The group argues that moving forward with the listing this year would effectively curtail ongoing local and private conservation efforts, through which millions of dollars have already been spent to recover more than a half-million grouse over 160 million acres of western habitat.
“As westerners, we have a special relationship with the land,” the coalition said in a statement. “We have seen the consequences of Washington, D.C. driven policies and know they aren’t a good substitute for decisions made with input from those of us who live, work, and recreate here.”
The federal government is expected to make a decision in September whether to list the sage grouse as a threatened or endangered species in 11 states that would effectively restrict ranching, farming, energy development and some recreation.
The proposed listing is part of a 2011 settlement between environmental groups and the Obama administration that critics say was negotiated behind closed doors to settle lawsuits seeking endangered species listings for hundreds of creatures.