COUNTER OPINION – The goal of the joint Bureau of Land Management-U.S. Forest Service plans to conserve the Greater sage-grouse is, simply put, to ensure that the sagebrush sea — which the bird, hundreds of other wildlife species, and so many western communities rely on for their well-being — flourishes and remains open and accessible.
The American Exploration and Mining Association’s op-ed in the August 21 St. George News opens with the misleading assertion that all is well with the bird. The fact remains that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined a few years ago that the bird is in need of protection under the Endangered Species Act. Since that time, we have been working closely with all the sage-grouse states, including the state of Utah, to craft a conservation plan we hope will allow the Service to determine that major threats to the bird have been abated and that a listing is no longer needed. We believe our plans do just that.
Contrary to the assertions in the op-ed, there is no “land grab.” The plans do not close access to existing rights, grazing or off-highway vehicle routes. Like our fellow Westerners, we believe in and cherish access to the nation’s public lands.
What’s more important is what our plans do. They incorporate many elements requested by the individual state governors. They also help address the threat of rangeland fire. Fire can destroy productive sagebrush habitat and convert previously healthy habitat into cheatgrass-dominated landscapes. When that happens it’s not just bad for the bird, it also harms the people who rely on these lands.
States, landowners and companies need certainty. Delays would only undermine progress and deny states and businesses much-needed clarity about the rules of the road. A “not warranted” decision by the Service is possible – but they have made clear that it will only be possible if states, federal agencies, and private landowners put strong conservation measures in place.
We are striking a careful balance that will provide meaningful benefit to sage grouse and habitat while also protecting Western heritage, improving grazing lands and sustaining rural economies.
Submitted by Neil Kornze, Director, Bureau of Land Management, Washington, D.C.
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