Opinion: No GOP love for sage grouse

Click on the image for more information on greater sage-grouse.
While Republican lawmakers play election-year politics, sage grouse are going extinct

Western Republicans looking to strip protections for dwindling species

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — A group of right wing western lawmakers want to kill federal protections for dwindling sage grouse for at least 10 years with a proposed law that would specifically prevent the iconic birds from being listed as threatened or endangered under federal law.

Using the twisted Orwellian doublespeak that’s become common in anti-environmental GOP circles, the proposed bill is called  the Sage Grouse Protection and Conservation Act — which would strip federal biologists of their authority to make an accurate, science-based determination about the status of the birds.

The bill, which has almost no chance of passing the Senate, much less being signed by President Obama, would cover both Gunnison and greater sage-grouse. Both species were once widespread across the West but populations have tumbled in recent decades as the seemingly endless sagebrush ocean is slashed apart by oil and gas drilling, road-building and exurban development.

Given the fact that the measure will never become law, it’s tempting to say that it’s just typical Republican election-year pandering to extractive special interests. Unfortunately, it’s a little more sinister because it represents a constant picking away at the bedrock environmental law that helped recover grizzlies, bald eagles and wolves.

Republicans know there’s no public support for fundamentally changing the premise of the Endangered Species Act, but as political chancers, they’ll take every opportunity to weaken a law that has been a constant annoyance to dirt pimps and fossil fuel speculators around the country.

Superficially, the language of the bill is reasonable, which disguises the fact that it would totally undermine the Endangered Species Act by carving out a politically motivated exemption driven by local interests.

Specifically, the measure proposes keeping sage grouse off the Endangered Species List for 1o years and require states to develop unique conservation plans to address local conditions.

That sounds good in theory, but the reality is that states and local governments often only do the bare minimum — or less — when it comes to conserving and recovering rare plants or animals. The bill also strengthens a dangerous precedent that was set a couple of years ago when lawmakers carved out a huge loophole for wolves, enabling states like Montana and Idaho to basically start eradicating the predators once again.

The new sage grouse bill is co-sponsored by Colorado’s own Cory Gardner, who used the same old tired language: “A one-size-fits-all approach is not the way to best protect the Sage grouse,” Gardner said, going on the claim that state-based conservation plans are the way to go, yet failed to cite a single example of a state effectively conserving an endangered species.

Wyoming Senator Mike Enzi even claimed that his state has “worked tirelessly” to protect sage grouse, a laughable statement in a place where they can’t dig more coal trenches fast enough, and where fossil fuel exploitation has poisoned the drinking water of small towns.

That’s not to say there’s no room for collaboration, but when it comes to protecting and restoring threatened plants and animals, biologists know they must err on the side of caution. For sage grouse, that means letting scientists make a politically untainted decision on whether the species should be listed, then developing a conservation plan based on that information.


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