While simultaneously encouraging cooperation and a constructive approach to wildlife conservation, Utah’s Governor Gary Herbert took another opportunity to blast the federal government for their effort at managing public lands in the West. This time it was about keeping the Greater Sage Grouse from being placed on the endangered species list, a move that could happen as early as 2015 if appropriate interventions aren’t identified and applied. At a two-day stakeholder conference organized by the Sage-Grouse Initiative that began last Tuesday, Governor Herbert took the time to speak to the working group, telling them that “listing would cost oil and gas developers $41.4 billion and 211,000 jobs.”
Emphasizing the teamwork of the participants and how a cooperative effort would promote the greatest chance of success at keeping the grouse from being listed, Governor Herbert acknowledged the ongoing work of more than 250 attendees including Utah ranchers, biologists, educators and local politicians at the state’s Department of Natural Resources headquarters in Salt Lake City. At the beginning of his remarks, Herbert asked if the Bureau of Land Management’s State Director, Juan Palma, was in the audience – however Palma had not yet arrived in time to hear the Governor launch into his concern about the way that the federal government had handled the most recent conservation effort by the state.
Utah began conservation study and field research on the matter in 1994. However, it was a Utah mitigation and regulatory plan, submitted in September of 2013 and reviewed by agencies including the US Fish and Wildlife Service, which prompted the Governor’s criticisms.
“I’m so extremely disappointed, after all that work by so many people coming together at the table, that the response from the US Fish and Wildlife Service was they didn’t like [our effort], and ‘We’re going to take control of the Sage Grouse [study].’ I think that it is wrongheaded and is really the wrong direction to go,” said Herbert.
Larry Crist, an ecological services field supervisor with the Fish and Wildlife Service indicated that the Utah plan had been reviewed by multiple offices at the regional and state level, and found it overall to be a “good plan.” In reviewing the state conservation plan that Governor Herbert signed in 2013, the top two elements that the federal authorities were looking for in ongoing plans involve habitat mitigation and the regulatory mechanisms applied to land use to help the birds thrive. The problem that the federal review had with Utah’s plan? “It relied upon regulatory efforts that were voluntary,” said Crist.
A conservation biologist with the Wild Utah Project, Allison Jones, expressed additional concerns. “Governor Herbert’s Public Lands Policy Director is acquiring funding through the executive appropriations committee to litigate and to avoid cooperating with an effective plan. Kathleen Clarke has stated that the state may have to litigate to avoid unnecessary federal regulation.” On the last day of the conference, Jones called upon the Utah Plan Implementation Council to go to the state capitol and lobby for funding for a conservation management effort instead of a legal confrontation.
Since Richard Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act into law in December of 1973, the act has been applied to twenty-eight species that have been “delisted” due to their recovery, including the Bald Eagle, the Whooping Crane and the Peregrine Falcon. As of 2009, the Fish and Wildlife Service had listed 1200 North American animals as endangered or threatened. Determination of the Greater Sage Grouse listing status is scheduled to occur in September of 2015. Governor Herbert found Utah’s work on the Sage Grouse Initiative to be praiseworthy because, like the buffalo (also listed as endangered), the Greater Sage Grouse sustained Utah’s pioneers as they migrated to and settled the west.