New federal sage grouse protection plan draws response

Posted at 2:12 PM, Aug 09, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-09 16:12:31-04

The Interior Department has unveiled a plan that gives western states more flexibility in dealing with the threatened sage grouse, how to protect its habitat while still creating economic opportunities in the area.

This week during his announcement, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke insisted that the federal government and the states can work together to protect the sage grouse and its habitat while not slowing economic growth and job creation. And now that the new plan is unveiled, members of the Montana Sage Grouse Working Group are weighing in.

"We appreciate Secretary Zinke and his team for taking a closer look at this. Obviously, it provides some positive things and a couple of those things are it allows a lot more cooperation between the state and the federal guidelines for sage grouse protection particularly as it relates to cattle grazing on BLM and Forest Service," said Montana Stockgrowers Association Executive Vice President Errol Rice. "It allows a bit more flexibility to work with those permit holders to come up with a good grazing management plan that will respect the needs of the sage grouse population."

Other members of the working group are disappointed that the plan seems to pit states against the federal government instead of a joint effort.

"It’s just disappointing that so much work went into looking at the best science and really figuring out a way to balance habitat protection uses with other land uses. It’s kind of a shame to see all that on the ground work thrown out in two months by some people in Washington deciding to litigate the whole topic," said Montana Wildlife Federation Executive Director Dave Chadwick. 

Secretary Zinke ordered a review in June of a 2015 plan imposed by the Obama administration. The plan set land-use policies across the popular game-bird’s 11-state range intended to keep it off the federal Endangered Species List.

Governor Steve Bullock is also concerned the Interior Department’s efforts to provide states greater flexibility could imperil the overall effort to prevent a listing of the sage grouse but will continue to encourage others across the West to respond to Secretary Zinke’s recommendations with an eye toward continuing the forward progress we have made.