Dwindling birds caught in a tangled web of science and politics
FRISCO — Just a couple of weeks after the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced $25 million in funding for greater sage-grouse conservation in California and Nevada, the federal government took another step in the long-running process to protect the dwindling birds by launching a new website.
Coordinated by three U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service information specialists, the new site emphasizes the collaborative nature of the conservation effort to protect the birds and their oft-overlooked sage-steppe habitat.
The scruffy badlands that stretch patchily between the Rockies and the Sierra Nevada may look empty, but there’s more than meets the eye, the USFWS explains on the new site’s intro page. Sage may dominate big slices of the landscape, but the ecosystem is threatened because not much of it is protected.
According to the USFWS, the website hopes to illustrate the breadth of the ongoing conservation actions underway to support greater sage-grouse and the sagebrush habitat needed by the bird and 350 other species.
The new site aggregates the on-line information resources that were once found on the Mountain-Prairie, Pacific Northwest and Pacific Southwest agency websites, providing original stories, photos and images for non-commercial reproduction.
The site comes online as a September 2015 deadline for a federal Endangered Species Act listing decision looms. Technical experts have precisely outlined the conservation measures needed to protect greater sage-grouse, but the listing process was previously tainted by political bullying, a federal judge said in 2010 as political appointees conjured up a decision that appeared to favor fossil fuel developers.
Here’s an excerpt from the court ruling:
“Finally, the FWS decision was tainted by the inexcusable conduct of one of its own executives. Julie MacDonald, a Deputy Assistant Secretary who was neither a scientist nor a sage-grouse expert, had a well-documented history of intervening in the listing process to ensure that the “best science” supported a decision not to list the species. Her tactics included everything from editing scientific conclusions to intimidating FWS staffers. Her extensive involvement in the sage-grouse listing decision process taints the FWS’s decision and requires a reconsideration without her involvement.”
A federal endangered species listing is still politically sensitive across the West, as elected officials have often asked public land management agencies to consider local interests.
The greater sage-grouse listing process shows the complexities of protecting and even restoring a species that has patches of habitat spread across huge chunks of the West, and the new website hopes to communicate that to the public and the media.
In Colorado, staffers include veteran nature and wildlife communicator Theo Stein firstname.lastname@example.org, who recently joined the USFWS Mountain-Prairie Region’s External Affairs team. Stein was the Denver Post environmental reporter for five years and then worked for Colorado Parks and Wildlife before joining the USFWS.
from the State of Colorado, where he served as Manager of the External Relations section for Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Communications Director for the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. In addition, Theo brings insights learned during a 17-year career as a journalist, including five years as the Denver Post Environment reporter. He will be the point of contact on both greater sage-grouse and Gunnison sage-grouse.
In the Pacific Northwest Region, Portland-based Public Affairs Officer Brent Lawrence, Brent_Lawrence@fws.gov, is available to field inquiries originating from Washington, Idaho and Oregon.
The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance
fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals, and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/. Connect with our Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/USFWSMountainPrairie, follow our tweets at http://twitter.com/USFWSMtnPrairie, watch our YouTube Channel at http://www.youtube.com/usfws and download photos from our Flickr page at http://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwsmtnprairie/