Republican Utah Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee have joined the fight to keep the greater sage grouse from being protected under the Endangered Species Act.
During the first week of June, Lee and Hatch joined a handful of other Republican senators in Washington to introduce an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that they say will protect the ability of the Army, Navy and Air Force to use their training ranges in Western states, while also empowering those same states to better manage their wildlife.
The amendment would delay listing the greater sage grouse for 10 years so states can implement conservation plans that Hatch and Lee say would ensure both military readiness and the survival of the bird. The amendment would also delay listing the lesser prairie chicken for at least five years.
“All three branches of our nation’s armed services have told us that a listing of the greater sage grouse would negatively impact their training, readiness, operations and costs,” Lee said in a press release. “Western states have a well-established and exemplary record of implementing their own sage-grouse conversation plans and there is zero need for other federal agencies to get involved.”
In late April, the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy, and Environment released a report that examined the impact of protecting sage grouse on the Yakima Training Center in Washington; Hawthorne Army Depot in Nevada; the Wyoming National Guard; and Tooele Army Depot and Dugway Proving Ground in Utah.
The report found that protecting the bird would restrict the availability of training lands; restrict the size of training lands and ranges; restrict the use of firing points and impose restrictions on future development and construction.
”Utah deserves the opportunity to protect this bird in a balanced manner that takes into consideration the needs of the public as well as the species,” Hatch said. “This amendment empowers our state to do just that.”
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah has also been outspoken about the sage grouse’s potential listing and subsequent effects on Western defense lands.
Bishop introduced a similar rider to the NDAA on the House side. The congressman says sage grouse restrictions cost the Department of Defense millions of dollars and affect training activities at military installations across the country.
Hatch, Lee and Bishop aren’t the only Utah politicians to chime in on the issue. Earlier this year, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert told state agencies to make sage grouse protection a priority in an effort to keep the bird off of the Endangered Species list.
The governor signed an executive order in February that asked state agencies to work with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources before going forward with any decisions that could harm sage grouse habitat.
The state also has a Greater Sage-grouse Management Plan, which is advertised by the state to “conserve more than 90 percent of the state’s greater sage-grouse habitat, totaling 7.5 million acres.” According to the DWR, sage grouse are responding well under the plan.
But several environmental and conservation groups stand strongly against the Utah politicians’ stance.
Allison Jones, executive director of the Wild Utah Project, said all military installations where sage grouse have been observed have “Integrated Natural Resources Management Plans” in place, which exempt DoD lands from any ESA laws. The plans were included in a previous Endangered Species Act amendment.
According to Utah’s Public Lands Policy Coordinating Office, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined in 2010 that the greater sage grouse is warranted for listing under the Endangered Species Act. The listing process was deferred based on greater needs of other species, but the decision is being reviewed in 2015.