SALT LAKE CITY — A decision to list the Gunnison sage-grouse as threatened under the Endangered Species Act could hurt the bird more than help it, said Greg Sheehan, the director of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.
“Placing the bird under the oversight of the federal government will greatly reduce our ability to help the bird,” Sheehan said.
Found mostly in southwestern Colorado, a small number of Gunnison sage-grouse also live in San Juan County in southeastern Utah. On Nov. 12, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that, despite years of work in both states, the bird warrants listing as a threatened species.
“Putting the bird under the management authority of the federal government will create roadblocks that will make it difficult to complete work to help the species,” Sheehan said.
For example, if the Utah DWR wants to partner with a landowner and a federal agency—to complete a habitat project to help the grouse—they can’t simply launch into the project and do the work. Instead, the project now has to go through a federal review process that Sheehan calls “tedious and time-consuming.”
Work has been underway since 1996 to help Gunnison sage-grouse in San Juan County, Sheehan said. Those efforts include the establishment of local working groups. The groups have brought landowners, local government officials, state
and federal agencies, and universities together to work on cooperative research and habitat projects to help the birds.
“We’re disappointed that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service believes that extensive conservation efforts in Utah and Colorado aren’t sufficient enough to protect the species,” Sheehan said. “The USFWS hasn’t given many of these efforts the time needed to show the efforts work.”
Sheehan praised the work local government officials, landowners and farmers have done to help the species in San Juan County.
“We appreciate the work local government officials, landowners and farmers have done to try to avoid this listing by the USFWS,” Sheehan said. “Landowners and farmers are the key to helping the species.”
Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee released the following joint statement on the FWS decision:
Once again, the federal government has put forward new regulations that will make life difficult for Utahns and disrupt the Utah economy. As a result of this decision, even more land on which Utahns have depended for generations to support their families will become subject to onerous restrictions imposed by bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. Worst of all, this listing was simply unnecessary. As our own Director of Utah’s Division of Wildlife Resources has said, federal protections will actually make it more difficult to help the bird, by undermining the voluntary efforts of landowners, local officials, and environmental groups that have successfully maintained the Gunnison Sage Grouse population and conserved their habitat for nearly two decades. Despite these new regulations, we will continue to fight to protect the rights of states to manage wildlife within their borders.”
Hatch and Lee have been actively involved in the debate over the need for ESA protections of the Gunnison Sage Grouse. They have co-written a letter alongside five other senators and representatives from Utah and Colorado requesting an extension of the comment period of the proposed rules for the Gunnison Sage Grouse in order to get local communities involved. The Greater Sage Grouse—a cousin to the Gunnison Sage Grouse—has a larger presence in the West and has been nominated for ESA protections. A listing of the Greater Sage Grouse would be even more devastating than today’s listing of the Gunnison Sage Grouse. Both senators cosponsored legislation earlier this year that would require the secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior to provide assistance to states in developing their own conservation and management plans to protect and recover sage grouse species.
Updated 1:30 p.m. to include statement from Utah senators.
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