Look out when politicians get involved in endangered species conservation
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — If I were a sage grouse, I’d be heading for the hills right about now, because there’s nothing scarier than a “task force” of politicians sitting around discussing your fate.
The task force will be co-chaired by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, neither one of whom ever saw a gas-drilling proposal they didn’t like.
They will, according to a press release from Hickenlooper’s office, look for ways “to collaboratively identify actions that could preclude the need to list the sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act.”
It would be nice to believe that executive level participation might lead to meaningful conservation measures, but a more cynical interpretation of that political jargon might be, “How can we avoid taking any real, meaningful measures to protect a fast-disappearing species that once ranged widely across the sagebrush ocean of the interior West while making sure that energy company and real estate developers have their way with the land?”
Since sage grouse already qualify for listing, why not follow Endangered Species Act guidelines and procedures to recover the species? If it was good enough for bald eagles, it ought to be good enough for sage grouse.
Here’s more polit-speak from the press release:
“We are pleased to join Gov. Mead in working with other Western states to find ways we can protect this majestic, iconic Western species,” Hickenlooper said. “This task force will work with federal agencies and existing groups to find strategies states can employ to keep this species vibrant and off the threatened and endangered species list. We have our work cut out for us, but we are optimistic we can make great strides with this effort.”
“The goal of the Endangered Species Act is not to add to the list, but to protect the species so they never make it to the endangered species list,” Mead said. “I appreciate Governor Hickenlooper, the 9 other western governors and the Director Abbey joining us to create a state-led plan that will balance conservation of the sage-grouse with development and job creation.”
Right. Just like Mead wants to take the wolf off the endangered species list so so that it can be hunted back to the edge of oblivion in Wyoming. The balance has already been tilted heavily in direction of development and extraction — that’s why sage grouse are in trouble.
All that fancy talk won’t bring the birds back from the brink. The reality is that we already know exactly what needs to be done, not just conserve what’s left of sage grouse populations, but to restore them, as the Endangered Species Act requires. It’s pretty simple, really: Stop fragmenting habitat with new gas drilling leases and protect critical breeding and feeding areas. Lip service isn’t going to save the endangered birds, but immediate action may.
If the federal and state governments are serious about sage grouse preservation, they should assemble a panel of conservation biologists and sage grouse specialists. Let that group develop a plan based on the best available science and then endorse it wholeheartedly. Otherwise, the formation of this task force should be seen for what it is — a cynical effort to replace the safeguards and assurances of the Endangered Species Act with meaningless political promises.