U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV) ended 2014 locked in rolling feud with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell over the sage grouse in the western U.S.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported recently that “the Obama administration is stewing over a rider Amodei stuck onto the year-end government spending bill that prohibits the Fish and Wildlife Service from meeting a September 2015 deadline to finalize rules listing the chicken-sized desert bird as endangered or threatened.”
Amodei has said he does not think the administration really wants to keep the bird off the list, and says they aren’t really doing enough to keep it off, either.
Listing the sage grouse as endangered or threatened would then close off large tracts of land in the western U.S. and disrupt ranchers and others who use the same range for other purposes.
Jewell was reported in the Review-Journal article saying, “It’s disappointing that some members of Congress are more interested in political posturing than finding solutions to conserve the sagebrush landscape and the Western way of life. Rather than helping the communities in the profess to benefit, these members will only create uncertainty, encourage conflict and undermine the unprecedented progress that is happening throughout the West.”
Amodei reportedly responded to the remarks by Jewell, saying, “The resort to shallow political attacks does not hide the fact that Ms. Jewell’s department chose, through budgetary inaction, not to make any attempt to avoid an endangered species listing. There are a lot of great people working very hard on the sage hen issue in the West, and Interior needs to show some respect to them instead of defaulting to tired political agendas.”
Former Lincoln County Commission chairman Tommy Rowe said listing the sage grouse would greatly affect the local economy. “It would really raise heck with all the cattlemen and all the public use of land. It would make a lot of restrictions we don’t want on things such as four wheeling, off-road racing, cattle grazing, sheep grazing, the Silver State Trail, etc., it would affect all of these.”
Connie Simkins, long time secretary of the N4 Grazing Board, commented listing the bird on the endangered species list “would have a very big potential to eliminate cattle grazing anywhere that sage grouse live today, or where some future government official might decide sage grouse should live and breed.”
She said a committee of concerned people in Nevada has been working hard on keeping the sage grouse protected, but not listed as endangered. “The fear of the livestock industry throughout the western United States,” she noted, “is that the government will adopt a map drawn by the Nevada Department of Wildlife that shows where sage grouse habitats are now, and where the NDOW thinks they should be, and effectively eliminate cattle grazing inside the boundaries.”
Simkins disagreed with many experts who think they know about sage grouse and cattle. “Some think that cattle and sage grouse cannot co-exist, but it is the livestock industry’s position that is absolutely false. We have known for years where the sage grouse are and have not had a detrimental effect whatsoever on the sage grouse,” she said.
She continued, “Predators, like coyotes, and ravens are the biggest reason the sage grouse population might be declining. Ravens are protected from hunters, and coyotes will devastate any sage grouse nest it comes across.”
N4 Grazing Board vice-chair Ed Higbee of Alamo agreed that predators are the major threat to sage grouse, not cattle. “The tremendous growth of the raven population in Nevada is a major problem. When I was growing up, there were very few ravens and lots of sage grouse, turtles and even songbirds in the area. I think they (the feds) want to overlook all that and just blame it on habitat. More emphasis needs to be put on predator control.”
Resource Concepts of Reno has also done some work on the issue for the N4 Grazing Board as well, Higbee said. Governor Sandoval had a task force committee working on the matter a few years ago, Higbee noted. “I think they are listening to us. They know it is a big deal, but I don’t know what the conclusion was, if any.”
New County Commission chairman Kevin Phillips sees two issues with the controversy. He said, “Trying to protect the sage grouse seems to me to be a ruse to control even more of the public land, but there is evidence showing there is ample space and place for these birds to live and survive.”