County Commissioners have joined with others around the state in what commission chair Kevin Phillips calls a ?hot button issue? regarding the sage grouse in Nevada and other western states.
While being pleased the chicken-sized greater sage-grouse will not be listed by the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife on the Endangered Species List, they are not happy about the proposed land use planning decisions also set forth by the FWS.
The BLM and USFS announced the finalization of 98 land use plans that the organizations say ?will help conserve greater sage-grouse habitat and support sustainable economic development on portions of public lands in 10 states across the West.?
Nevada Farm Bureau president Hank Combs said, ?Although the U.S. Fish and Wildlife decision to not list the greater sage-grouse recognizes the successful local, state and federal efforts to protect the bird in each of the 11 western states, Nevada Farm Bureau remains concerned that the Department of Interior?s land use management plan will be counterproductive to sagebrush habitat and sage grouse conservation. More federal restrictions and controls will prohibit the grassroots efforts necessary to improve the bird populations. The sagebrush focal areas addressed in the plans are exclusion areas. This classification limits habitat restoration abilities and has the potential to increase the fuel load and intensity of wildfires in sage-grouse habitats.?
The Lincoln County Board of Commissioners sent a two-page letter to the Nevada Association of Counties explaining their own involvement in sage grouse issues since the 1990?s. ?Many thousands of man-hours have been devoted to the planning process for Lincoln County in terms of sage grouse conservation,? the letter states. ?Stakeholders and user groups have been very well represented and collaborative in theses planning efforts.?
They also state they feel the land use planning ideas put forth by the Department of the Interior ?undermines the current accepted plans and policies through inaccuracies in mapping and will severely restrict necessary uses in Lincoln County. Uses such as grazing, hunting and recreational tourism all contribute to the economy of Lincoln County.?
?The land use planning act,? commissioners said, ?will severely limit much needed access in Lincoln County. All existing major roads and minor roads and trails recognized by Lincoln County and any measured of limited access or restrictive access will not be supported.?
Commissioners plan to cite the so-called RS 2477 law that was enacted by the United States Congress in 1866 to encourage the settlement of the western United States by the development of a system of highways. Its entire text is one sentence: ?the right-of-way for the construction of highways across public lands not otherwise reserved for public purposes is hereby granted.?
The original grant did not require being recorded, meaning it was self-enacting, and in 1866 constructing a road often meant using a trail many times and perhaps filling low places, moving rocks and placing signs. It granted to counties and states a right-of-way across federal land when a highway was built. Even though RS 2477 was repealed in 1976 by the Federal Policy and Land Management Act, it is subject to ?valid existing rights.?
District 4 Congressman Cresent Hardy (R-NV) also issued his own statement this week. ?I was very disappointed to learn of the Department of Interior?s decision to aggressively advance an agenda that puts the interests of a small contingent of environmental extremists over those of rural Nevada?s hardworking families. Today?s announcement confirms this was never fully about protecting any particular species. This is yet another stark reminder of the challenges Western states like Nevada face when the federal government controls so much of the land within our borders. Despite controlling 84 percent of the greater sage grouse?s range in our state, the federal government has chosen to punish our communities for its own mismanagement by severely restricting every Nevadan?s access to our public lands. Without access to traditional land uses in Nevada – mineral exploration, energy extraction and ranching – states like Nevada wouldn?t be what they are today. This policy not only disregards our historic way of life, but it also threatens the local economies of some of the hardest hit areas from the Great Recession. I encourage our federal land management agencies to focus the same amount of energy and attention on solving the very real threats to sagebrush habitat, like wildfires and invasive species, that continue to ravage the West.?
Secretary of the Interior Ann Jewell said in a press release that the FWS decision not to list the sage-grouse as endangered was the result of an ?historic effort ? one that represents extraordinary collaboration across the American West.? She added, ?It demonstrates that the Endangered Species Act is an effective and flexible tool and a critical catalyst for conservation ? ensuring that future generations can enjoy the diversity of wildlife that we do today.?