Reposted from Think Progress:


“In case the Republican leadership hasn’t noticed, the west is going up in flames..." 

Dustin Ellison attempts to beat down a roadside hot spot with a mat from his car on Monday, May 5, 2014, in Guthrie, Okla.

With multiple fires burning in the West, and the U.S. Forest Service’s (USFS) wildfire budget expected to run dry in the coming days, House Democrats have launched an all-out effort to force an up-or-down vote on a bipartisan proposal that would provide wildland firefighters the resources they need to do their jobs.

One hundred and ninety-six House Democrats have thus far signed on to what is known as a discharge petition, which would force House Republican leaders to bring the stalled Wildfire Disaster Funding Act of 2014 to a vote.

Instead of debating a measure to provide needed resources for fighting wildfires, however, the House this week is expected to vote on a bill that would waive at least 14 environmental laws within 100 miles of the southern U.S. border, and has already spent time voting on legislation to weaken the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

“With rising temperatures and record droughts across the country, we could be headed into one of the worst wildfire seasons in our history,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said in launching the discharge petition on July 11. “But with fires raging across the west, the money is running out — and House Republicans can’t be bothered to act.”
Fire conditions are regionally variable, and worse than normal in California and the Pacific Northwest this year

The Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, which President Obama included in his Fiscal Year 2015 budget proposal for Congress and which is also championed by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-CO) and Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID), would treat the worst 1 percent of wildfires like other natural disasters by allowing the federal government to draw from special disaster funds to support response efforts.

A May analysis by the Center for American Progress found that this type of reform proposal would have “far-reaching benefits for American communities, parks, and public lands,” by helping free up resources for fire prevention, fuels reduction, and mitigation.

As part of their campaign for an up-or-down vote on the wildfire funding bill, House Natural Resources Committee Democrats released an analysis Tuesday that found that between 2008 and 2012 the U.S. Forest Service had to spend $1.6 billion “fighting the worst 1 percent of American wildfires, accounting for 30 percent of the agency’s total firefighting costs.”

“In case the Republican leadership hasn’t noticed, the west is going up in flames. Yosemite is burning, but they have turned a blind eye to continue this political, partisan ESA sideshow” said Peter DeFazio (D-OR) in releasing the report. “We should have dropped this charade and done something real — fixed wildfire funding before our agencies run out of money. There is no excuse for inaction.”

With DeFazio and his colleagues only 22 signatures short of the 218 required to force a vote on the bill, this new report may be partly aimed at attracting the support of Republican members whose districts are prone to wildfires and whose communities depend on federal agencies to help defend life and property.

Members from states like California, Arizona, and Oregon — the three states with the highest spending on catastrophic wildfires — may in the coming weeks face growing pressure from constituents to help pass the wildfire funding bill and avoid the type of recurring budget shortfalls that have plagued land management agencies and Western communities in recent years.

In seven of the past twelve years, the USFS and the Department of the Interior (DOI) have significantly exceeded their wildfire budgets, forcing the agencies to divert funds from other critical programs such as forest restoration and regular thinning practices, intended to reduce the numbers of wildfires.

The pattern appears to be repeating itself: addressing the Western Governors Association in June, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack estimated that “fighting wildfires this year will cost about $1.8 billion” which is “$470 million more than Congress has budgeted.”

Claire Moser is the research and advocacy associate with the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress. You can follow her on Twitter at @Claire_Moser. Matt Lee-Ashley is a senior fellow and director of the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress. You can follow him on Twitter at @MLeeAshley.
Tags: ForestsWildfires

Reposted from Green Bay Gazette


(Photo: File/Gannett Wisconsin Media)

Tammy Baldwin 10:03 p.m. CDT July 29, 2014
Devastating wildfires are raging in Washington and Oregon. And many other states have felt the heartbreaking impacts of their destruction.

That's why I am pleased the emergency supplemental appropriations bill includes $615 million for wildfire suppression, to provide much needed support to these suffering communities.

But it's not just Western states that feel the impacts of wildfires. In fact, wildfires hurt Wisconsin too. That's because there is a broken budget process called "fire borrowing." which forces the U.S. Forest Service to take funding intended to manage our national forests and instead uses it to fight wildfires in other states. This cripples the Forest Service and diverts critical funding from our state.

Related: Baldwin says Ryan is forest bill obstructionist

Special report: Timber Trouble

In Wisconsin, over 50,000 people are employed in the forest products industry from jobs in forestry and logging to paper makers in the state's many mills. The industry pays over $3 billion in wages into the state's economy and ships products worth over $17 billion each year. Unfortunately, fire borrowing has led to long project delays that are impacting this vital industry and jeopardizing the jobs it supports.

The practice of fire borrowing has increased in recent years, triggered when we have a bad fire season and the Forest Service runs out of funds available for firefighting. When fire funding is gone, the agency transfers funds from other parts of its budget and "borrows" them to pay for the fire suppression. When these funds are diverted, agency work is put on hold.

No business owner would select a supplier who couldn't provide a clear delivery schedule, or who would routinely delay delivery of products for undetermined amounts of time. Loggers and other local businesses that partner with the Forest Service have to deal with such uncertainty because of fire borrowing. Government can work better than this.

Fortunately, Congress now has the chance to solve this problem. The Senate emergency supplemental appropriations bill would solve this broken process by treating the largest fires like other natural disasters, such as hurricanes and tornadoes, and it would stabilize the rest of the Forest Service budget so that other essential work — ranging from timber sales to the management of forest health — can be completed on schedule. Furthermore, the proposal is fiscally responsible because it would help reduce long-term costs by allowing for increased fire prevention activities and because it would not increase the amount that Congress can spend on natural disasters.

Ending fire borrowing has strong bipartisan support. In fact, over 120 members of the House or Representatives and Senate and more than 200 groups ranging from the timber industry to conservation groups to the National Rifle Association support the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, the bipartisan bill that contains the fire borrowing fix included in the supplemental. The consensus is that we need to get this fix done this year.

While there is strong bipartisan support for ending fire borrowing, it's unclear if the House is going to support this fix in its version of the supplemental appropriations bill. In fact, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan has consistently stood in the way of bipartisan solutions offered in both the House and Senate. He has ignored the fact that the current budget structure is flawed and has resulted in the Forest Service taking the forest management funding Wisconsin's forests rely upon and instead using it to fight wildfires.

As his House Republican colleague Rep. Mike Simpson of Wyoming recently pointed out, "Unfortunately, continuing the status quo, as Chairman Ryan advocates, prevents us from reducing the cost and severity of future fires by forcing agencies to rob the money that Congress has appropriated for these priorities to pay for increasingly unpredictable and costly fire suppression needs."

The bipartisan solution that I support for Wisconsin is a fiscally responsible fix to a devastating problem with wide-ranging impacts. It will help us respond to wildfires and it will support businesses and thousands of jobs in the timber industry in Wisconsin and throughout the country. I urge my fellow Wisconsin colleagues as well as my colleagues in the House and Senate to come together, supporting the end to fire borrowing, and solve this problem once and for all.

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, serves on the Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources.


Reposted from AlterNet:


AlterNet / By Cliff Weathers
Photo Credit: Sergi Votit/Shutterstock

August 1, 2014      
Congress is heading home for summer vacation, failing to act on emergency funding to combat the wildfires that are raging in the West.
  President Obama had requested $615 million in emergency funding to help the U.S. Forest Service and Interior Department pay for firefighting efforts, and the Democratic-controlled Senate proposed a $2.7 billion spending bill to deal with both the wildfires and the influx of unaccompanied minors along the Southwest border. But Senate Republicans used a procedural objection to block its consideration.The House did not introduce a bill to combat wildfires.
  Although Congress returns next month, the fire season in some states will have passed its peak. 
  Ironically, without emergency funding from Congress, the Forest Service and Interior Department will need to transfer money from elsewhere in their budgets, including funds earmarked to remove flammable vegetation from forests, projects that help prevent such fires from raging in the first place.
   The two federal agencies have budgeted over $1 billion for firefighting this year — five times more than 20 years ago — but that may not be enough.
   Wildfires are currently raging through the Pacific Northwest and California, in regions that have been affected by unseasonably warm temperatures and drought. The long-range forecast in the region  calls for above-average temperatures through October, which can translate into fuels that are much drier than usual. 
   Fires continue to rage in Oregon, and communities in the southwestern part of the state are being asked to evacuate their homes, as fire spreads along the border with California. Some 5,300 acres in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument have been scorched and the town of Ashland, just to its east, is threatened by the fire. Meanwhile, lightning has sparked two new large wildfires in the state.
   About 780 square miles  of land is currently burning in Oregon, and a continued heat wave, along with forecasted lightning storms, are expected to bring more fires to the region.
   Fires in central Washington, which have raged since early July, are threatening the state’s famous orchards at the time apple harvest begins.
   In California, a wildfire in Yosemite National Park is being fought back, but still threatens a rare grove of giant sequoias. The fire is 58% percent contained as of Friday. Some firefighters at the scene have been redeployed to another fire 100 miles away in the Sierra Nevada foothills.
   Over the past few weeks, dozens of wildfires have scorched hundreds of thousands of acres and forced thousands of residents from their homes in the three states. Only a few weeks into the three-month fire season in Washington and Oregon, the total area of scorched ground is already higher than in any full year over at least a decade.
  More than 3,500 people — including National Guard troops and firefighters from across the nation -- have been battling the fires.
  Satellite imagery drives home the message of the fires’ severity. Vast plumes of smoke are moving south and east across the nation, spewing ash particulates as far away as New England and the Gulf of Mexico.
  After a mild, damp spring, much of the Pacific Northwest has been experiencing a heat wave this summer, with temperatures reaching past 100 degrees.  But it was the lightning and high winds associated with thunderstorms that have breathed the fires to life, according to fire officials.
  Fires in high-elevation timberlines, where there are few homes and people, are being allowed to burn as firefighters concentrate on the ones that are more threatening to civilization.
  Worrisome during this fire season is California, which is very susceptible to wildfires. The entire state has been under drought conditions for months, with most areas under “exceptional” or “extreme” drought conditions. Powerful Santa Ana winds have helped make conditions ideal for wildfires since January. It’s the first time in 15 years that all of California has been under drought conditions.
  So far, California's firefighting agency, Cal Fire, has responded to more than 3,700 wildfires, which is a huge increase in the average number of fires at this point in the year. More than 52,000 acres have burned in the state this year. 

Cliff Weathers is a senior editor at AlterNet, covering environmental and consumer issues. He is a former deputy editor at Consumer Reports. His work has also appeared in Salon, Car and Driver, Playboy, and Detroit Monthly among other publications. Follow him on Twitter @cliffweathers and on Facebook.

August 3. 2014















Updated August 4. 2014 





Reposted from Earthjustice


By Brian Smith 
Friday, July 11, 2014

Legislation nicknamed as "The Empty Oceans Act" - because it threatens protections for marine species - is the first attempt by Congress to update this nation's most important oceans law, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

Created in 1976, the law regulates commercial and recreational salt water fisheries in ocean waters controlled by the United States (3 - 200 miles offshore). The law has dual purposes, to promote the fishing industry in U.S. territorial waters and to conserve fishery resources. These dual goals make this law tricky to enforce, though the conservation side of the equation has gained strength since the act was updated in 2006.

For the most part, conservation organizations believe the law works, when fully enforced, and does not require a major overhaul.

Industry groups, however, seek to rewrite the law in a way that offers more “flexibility” (read: less enforceability.) One proposal would allow regional fishery management councils to set their own timelines for rebuilding stocks, while considering the economic impact on fishing communities in their region. As a result, short term commerce gain would trump conservation, exactly the old system that led to depleted fish stocks and the need for the Act in the first place.

The first crack at reauthorization came from the House Natural Resources Committee, which passed H.R. 4742 on May 29, 2014. This bill was introduced by Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) The “Empty Oceans Act” (as it has come to be known) passed out of committee on a mostly party-line vote 24-17. The bill is expected to be voted on by the full House soon.

Ocean conservation groups objected to the fact that H.R. 4842 is taking aim at the very measures contained in the MSA that have led to the success we have seen in restoring our fisheries -- deadlines for rebuilding overfished stocks, and science-based annual catch limits.   Like most of the bills passed out of Chairman Hasting’s committee, the “Empty Oceans Act” would also runs roughshod over the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Marine Sanctuaries Act and the Antiquities Act.  

As the reauthorization debate moves forward, ocean groups will point that conservation must be part of the discussion.With advancing science, we know much more about the ocean that we did in 1976. For example:

Some fishing practices, like bottom trawling, destroy ocean habitat. While they may be profitable in the short term, the practice is horribly destructive for fish habitat.
Protecting areas where fish reproduce can help provide a sustainable fish harvest for future generations. Federal agencies must minimize activities that damage essential fish habitat.
We must manage our ocean to balance any potential economic impacts on fishermen with the goal of creating a sustainable fishery.
Fishery managers should focus on protecting the overall health of marine ecosystems.

The House will soon vote on the Hastings bill. Meanwhile Senators Mark Begich (D-AK) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) are expected to introduce their own reauthorization bill sometime this summer.



This goes to vote today ~ 
July 7. 2014. 
Please speak out.We can still call and sign. All information below. Thank you.

Please call today. 
Find your legislators: 
If you are not a U.S.A. citizen, you can still call ~ Phone contact on this list:

Help Wolf Conservation Center Oppose Bipartisan Sportsmen's Act, S.1996 .
Sign here:

Wolf Conservation Center Opposes Bipartisan Sportsmen's Act, S.1996 

A message from Wolf Conservation Center

Take Action

We oppose S. 1996, the so-called “Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2014” and the related Senate bills (S. 2363, S. 170, S. 847, S. 1335, S. 1634, S. 1660 and S. 1212). We oppose this legislation because it threatens the conservation of fish, wildlife, and habitats that benefit all Americans. While there are many adverse special interest provisions contained in the legislation, the following aspects of the bill clearly demonstrate why it must be opposed.

Specifically, S. 1996 will exclude national wildlife refuge management decisions from environmental review & public input and aims to open vital wilderness areas to damaging construction projects for the purpose of energy and/or mineral production, energy generation and/or transmission infrastructure as well as recreational hunting and shooting on FEDERAL lands.

1- It contains several alarming rollbacks of long-standing federal environmental and public land laws including the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Wilderness Act, and the National Forest Management Act. In the process, it would reduce or eliminate important protections for America’s public lands that have been in place for decades.

2 -In regards to NEPA, for example, the bill could exempt all decisions on and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service lands regarding trapping and recreational hunting, fishing, and shooting from compliance with NEPA by mandating that such lands be open to these activities. NEPA ensures that agencies assess and consider the impacts of their land-use decisions before those decisions are made. It also serves as an effective platform for the public to assess the environmental consequences of proposed agency actions and to weigh in on governmental decisions before they are finalized.

3-  Underlying changes to the Wilderness Act embedded in the legislation seek to overturn decades of Congressional protection for wilderness areas. For example, the bill would require lands managed by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, including wilderness areas, to be managed as “open unless closed” to recreational shooting which includes “sport, training, competition, or pastime whether formal or informal” in Wilderness. Wilderness has always been closed to competitive events and commercial enterprises by statute and regulation.

4- The bill prioritizes hunting, trapping, recreational fishing, and recreational shooting in most Wildernesses by requiring that all federal land managers (except for lands managed by the National Park Service or the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service) facilitate the use of and access to lands under their control for these activities. The agencies could interpret that enhancing hunting, fishing and recreational shooting in Wilderness could allow management measures such as motorized use to artificially increase game or fish numbers. Such measures would be inconsistent with Wilderness and the Wilderness Act.

5- The legislation promotes the priorities of various special interests by making substantive policy changes to public land law. It prioritizes recreational shooting activities such as those found on target ranges. As defined, recreational shooting activities are unrelated to, and potentially at odds with, the unique natural resource values of the various federal land management systems on which they would occur.  Under the National Forest Management Act, forest managers manage for the resilience of our national forests so that both current and future generations can benefit from multiple uses of the land. In some cases, managers need the flexibility to stop certain actions to promote long-term use of the forest resources. Requiring that all Forest Service lands be “open unless closed” to hunting, trapping, fishing and shooting is one example of many where this legislation undercuts their ability to do that.

Appropriate management of our public lands plays a critical role in stewardship for biodiversity as well as for recreational opportunities. The natural resource management laws affected by this legislation help ensure well-managed public lands that provide habitat for biodiversity, and maintain healthy populations to help prevent the need for new listings of species under the Endangered Species Act. They work to ensure that our wildlife and public land resources thrive and that hunters, birders and anglers alike can enjoy them for generations to come. By weakening these important laws, the proposed legislation would significantly undermine these important public land values.

6- The bill would remove the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate toxic lead or any other toxic substance used in ammunition or fishing equipment under the Toxic Substances Control Act. A nationwide ban on lead shot in migratory waterfowl hunting was adopted in 1991 after biologists estimated roughly two million ducks died each year from ingesting spent lead pellets. The hunting industry groups that want to prevent the EPA from regulating lead ammunition and fishing tackle are the same groups that protested the ban on lead shot for waterfowl hunting in 1991. Despite the doom-and-gloom rhetoric, hunters know two decades later that this was a good decision for waterfowl, and didn’t lead to the end of duck or goose hunting. A federal agency should be able to carry out its duties without uncalled for and unscientific laws impeding this process. Such decisions should be left to the discretion of federal agencies based solely on the best available science on the impacts of toxic substances such as lead. Congress should not tie the hands of professional scientists and prevent them from even evaluating or considering future policies to protect the public and the environment.

7- This legislation would allow the import of 41 sport-hunted polar bear trophies. This would be the latest in a series of import allowances that Congress has approved, and the cumulative effect is devastating to our most imperiled species. Despite having notice of the impending prohibition on import of polar bear trophies for sixteen months (between January 2007 and May 2008), a number of trophy hunters went forward with hunts anyway. In fact, the 41 individuals all hunted polar bears AFTER the Bush Administration proposed the species for listing as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, and all but one hunted more than a year after the listing was proposed. They were given repeated warnings from hunting organizations and government agencies that trophy imports would likely not be allowed as of the listing date, and that they were hunting at their own risk. If this behavior were rewarded through a congressional waiver, it could accelerate the pace of killing any species proposed for listing in the future, since hunters would believe they could get the trophies in even after the listing becomes final. Each new allowance may involve only a few animals, but the cumulative impacts of these waivers time and time again lead to more reckless trophy killing.

8 -  Requires a federal public land management official, in cooperation with the respective state and fish and wildlife agency, to facilitate the use of, and access to, federal public land for hunting, recreational fishing, and recreational shooting; requires the heads of federal public land management agencies to exercise their discretion in a manner that supports and facilitates hunting, recreational fishing, and recreational shooting opportunities, to the extent authorized under applicable law. Requires that Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service land, excluding land on the Outer Continental Shelf, be open to hunting, recreational fishing, or recreational shooting unless the managing agency acts to close lands to such activity. Permits closures or restrictions on such land for purposes including resource conservation, public safety, energy or mineral production, energy generation or transmission infrastructure, water supply facilities, national security, or compliance with other law.

This bill is extreme and reckless. It would undermine decades of land management and planning and would topple the delicate balance between allowing for public use and the need to protect public resources. In regards to public land access for recreational hunting and fishing, it is also unnecessary. Hunting and fishing are already permitted on 85% of public lands. This bill’s proponents seek to solve a problem that does not exist, and the legislation they propose could in fact cause serious damage to America’s natural heritage.

Please oppose S. 1996, as well as any of the Senate bills that are companions to individual titles of this legislation – S. 2363, S. 170, S. 847, S. 1335, S. 1634, S. 1660 and S. 1212 – and oppose any effort to attach this legislation to another bill. This legislation is bad for public lands and water resources, bad for fish and wildlife, and bad for the American people.

S. 1996: Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2014

Sponsor: Sen. Kay Hagan [D NC]

A bill to protect and enhance opportunities for recreational hunting, fishing, and shooting, and for other purposes.

Opposed by Wolf Conservation Center

We oppose S. 1996 because it combines several anti-wildlife proposals into a single dangerous bill that threatens the future of America's public lands and wildlife. The bill will exclude national wildlife refuge management decisions from environmental review & public input and aims to open vital wilderness areas to damaging construction projects as well as recreational hunting and shooting on FEDERAL lands.

June 25. 2014


At the 2014 Montana Republican Platform Convention this weekend, the GOP unanimously passed a resolution in favor of shifting public land management away from Washington DC control.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014/Categories: General News, Today's Top 5, Ag Issues, State Government, Montana Legislature

MT GOP: Transfer Federal Lands to the State The following is a press release from Montana GOP:

Billings, MT – A resolution in support of granting federally managed public lands to the state met with overwhelming approval at this year’s MTGOP state convention, June 19-21 in Billings.

After hearing the legal, environmental, and economic facets of transferring federally managed public lands to state-based ownership, hundreds of Republicans from throughout Montana voted unanimously in favor of shifting public land management away from Washington DC control.  

Reducing catastrophic wildfire conditions, protecting multiple use access, restoring healthy forests and range lands, and increasing economic productivity are among the top priorities identified in the resolution which requests elected officials begin planning for an orderly transfer to state ownership along with development of a management plan that better reflects Montana values.

Dissatisfaction with federal bureaucracy has been brewing across the west for years, but the movement to transfer ownership and management responsibilities to the states gained serious momentum after Utah passed a Transfer of Public Lands Act in 2012. Numerous non-partisan organizations around the West and the nation, like National Association of Counties and the American Farm Bureau, have adopted resolutions supporting the transfer of public lands to willing western states.

With strong bi-partisan support, Montana’s 2013 legislature ranked federal public land management as the state’s number two overall study priority. Senator Jennifer Fielder, R - Thompson Falls was appointed to head up the bi-partisan legislative working group tasked with identifying problems and exploring solutions.

“The legislature has considered a lot of ideas on how to correct the serious problems resulting from a failing federal land management model.” Fielder said. 

“Transferring federally controlled public lands to state based management is the topic that has attracted the most attention. It makes sense that the public lands in Montana should be managed by Montanans because we are the ones directly affected by these decisions. Those of us who have done our homework on the transfer of public lands proposition realize it is legal and economically feasible, it’s been done in other states, and it’s really the only way to avoid further subjecting Montana to the continuing onslaught of dysfunctional federal land management policies. It is simply a matter of presenting the facts and amassing the political courage necessary to manage these lands more responsibly.”

Earlier this year lawmakers from throughout the west gathered at the Utah state capitol to discuss land transfer logistics. Fielder says it’s a big idea that is hard for some people to grasp at first. But careful review of the evidence indicates transferring federally managed public lands to the states would be highly beneficial to Montana and the nation as a whole.  “The reasoning described in the MTGOP resolution sums this issue up very well.  I encourage everyone to read it and join us in this inspiring movement toward more sensible governance.” 

“One thing that has become clear through this process is we are not alone. Numerous communities, public land users, sportsmen, cattlemen, and industries throughout western America are suffering from unacceptable levels of access restrictions, economic depression, catastrophic wildfire conditions, and declining -- but preventable -- forest and range land health. Many states are working toward increasing local control.” Fielder noted. “Washington DC’s priorities just don’t align with the realities of the west. We can and must do better.”

Comprehensive information about Transfer of Public Lands is available at The Montana Republican Party's resolution of support can be viewed here:

NORTHERN AG NETWORK NOTE:  The above action was in response to a bill passed by the Montana Legislature during its last session.SJ15, which you can read HERE,$BSIV.ActionQuery?P_BILL_DFT_NO5=LC1591&Z_ACTION=Find&P_Sess=20131 passed by with a bipartisan vote of 133-17 and asked for an interim study on public land management in Montana.

Source:  Montana GOP

Photo © Liz Van Steenburgh | Dreamstime Stock Photos
Posted by Haylie Shipp



Last week, the bipartisan Western Governors' Association (WGA) adopted a resolution urging the federal government to defer to state conservation efforts and to prioritize funding to avoid new listings under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). The resolution (pdf)
calls for state conservation plans to "give rise to a regulatory presumption by federal agencies that an ESA listing is not warranted" and purports to provide clear guidance to states regarding minimum requirements for state and multi-state conservation plans. It also notes that states "should be included as partners” when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) or National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) makes an ESA listing determination.

While WGA's resolution applies to all species considered for listing by FWS and NMFS, it makes explicit reference to the greater sage grouse, a species that FWS must decide whether to list by September 2015 under a court order requiring FWS to make listing determinations for approximately 250 candidate species by 2018. The greater sage grouse inhabits 11 western states, all of which are represented by the WGA, and all of which have developed conservation plans or "other authorities" for conservation of the species.

The resolution emphasizes that "ESA listing decisions have real economic impacts for state and local governments" and urges federal funding for state conservation efforts to "remain robust." While not explicitly calling for a delay of FWS’ impending decision on whether to list the greater sage grouse, the resolution endorses "legislative initiatives, court rulings, petitions or regulatory measures which allow local, state, federal and private conservation efforts adequate time to be implemented and demonstrate their efficacy."

The resolution prompted a range of responses from conservation groups. One representative of WildEarth Guardians' Sagebrush Sea Campaign stated that the resolution "would replace science-based decision making with back-room politics in determining which species are protected and which are marked for extinction.”

Photo credits

Sage grouse hailed as job-killing weapon in 'New War on the West

Greater Sage-Grouse | National Audubon Society Birds

Photo credits:

Prairie Ice: More Greater Sage-



The greater sage-grouse, which dates to the last ice age, is down to half its numbers. Jerret Raffety / Rawlins Daily Times / AP

June 17, 2014 5:00AM ET

by Jamie Tarabay @jamietarabay
Editor’s note: This is the second in a three-part series investigating the complex relationship among the oil and gas industries, major gun groups and the hunting community. The first installment can be found here.

PINEDALE, Wyo. — The anticline is a tableland of nearly 200,000 acres, the Tetons visible in the distance and, in June, still covered with snow. The plateau is filled with sagebrush that barely reaches the knee, short grass, dirt roads and the occasional oil drill. Beneath its rocky surface are 25 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, one of the richest concentrations in the entire United States.

More than 350 species of animals — from elk, mule deer and pronghorn to various types of songbirds — live in the sagebrush. It is an area where the greater sage-grouse, a bird similar in size to a duck or a small goose, lives.

Around since the last ice age, the greater sage-grouse is down to 50 percent of its previous numbers. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has asked the 11 Western states that are home to the bird and its habitat to show how they intend to preserve its environment to avoid having it listed as an endangered species.

An endangered species listing would come with myriad restrictions — and not only for energy development and cattle grazing: It would curb recreational activities, such as hunting, which bring in billions of dollars in revenue, and it would lead to bureaucratic bottlenecks for permit applications for everything from land development to mine exploration.

In Wyoming, competing interests have found a way to coexist. 

In Pinedale, Wyoming, oil and gas, cattle grazing and the sage-grouse have found a way to coexist. Jamie Tarabay / Al Jazeera America
Because of this, virtually no one, not even conservationists, wants the bird listed, but now all those opposing interests — oil and gas development, mining, hunting, grazing and environmental groups — face the same challenge: overcoming their differences and proving they can protect the bird’s environment to the government’s satisfaction.

“The Bureau of Land Management has undergone probably the largest resource management planning exercise in its history,” says Ed Arnett, a wildlife biologist with the Center for Responsible Energy Development at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “There are 15 different environmental impacts statements under development to address the threats to sage-grouse. The key is that these BLM plans and the state conservation plans all come together to conserve the bird across its range.”

The term that everyone — in North and South Dakota, Montana, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, California, Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Nevada as well as southern Canadian provinces — seems to use when talking about the sage-grouse is “umbrella species.”

“We call this an umbrella species because a lot of animals use this habitat and we don’t want to see these animals petitioned,” says Noreen Walsh, a regional director at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “We have a legal obligation to protect the sage-grouse, but what affects the sage-grouse affects the whole sagebrush ecosystem. It’s important for ranchers. It’s important for hunters.”

During mating season, in the early spring, male sage-grouses gather in leks
and strut to compete against one another before the watching females. The males puff up their chests, their vocal sacs bubbling forward, wings slightly apart, as they court the females.

They make a gobble sound similar to turkeys’. Once the females have chosen their partners, the sage-grouses leave the lek and drift into the sagebrush to mate. The birds disappear into the habitat for nesting season.

The sage-grouse is a fickle bird, says Greg Zimmerman of the Center for Western Priorities, in Denver. “They don’t like tall structures because they get preyed on by raptors, so they can’t be near oil wells. They avoid human interaction, so they steer clear of roads too.”

So basically any human development — wind farms, ranching, oil and gas exploration — sends the bird away. And in Colorado, the bird occupies federal, state and private land. A classification on the endangered species list would curb the $3 billion recreation and hunting economy and place restrictions on every kind of development.

Previous Wyoming Governor Dave Freudenthal began work on protecting the sage-grouse in 2008.

Wyoming’s governor at the time, Dave Freudenthal, began work on protecting the sage-grouse in 2008. Michael Smith / Wyoming Tribune Eagle / AP

Wyoming, with birds, oil, gas and cattle in one large place, is the poster child for how states can put together a plan to protect and preserve a habitat while allowing for economic development too.

On a recent weekday in Pinedale, our vehicle collects dirt as it rumbles over rocky terrain stretching deep into sagebrush country. Before us, cowboys steer their horses as they muster free-grazing cattle over a dirt scrabble road. A cattle dog brings up the rear. A few feet away, a male sage-grouse takes to the air, and in the distance an oil well glints in the sun.

Wyoming had been working on a mechanism to protect the grouse since 2008, when the governor at the time, Dave Freudenthal, issued an executive order to protect its habitat, restricting roads, pipelines and mine pits.
In 2010 he updated the order, committing even more land after the Fish and Wildlife Service designated the bird a candidate for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

“When you’re making decisions on such a grand scale that certainly have an impact over a large tract of land and a long time frame, you have to go with the best science at hand. We’ve felt that we’ve thoroughly vetted the science since 2007 to make solid policy recommendations,” says Paul Ulrich, senior adviser at Jonah Energy and the oil and gas industry representative on the state’s committee focused on preservation of the greater sage-grouse.

Seven years ago, when a red flag went up about the bird’s potential endangerment, not everyone was on the same page, he says.

“We had very divergent points of view from the industry, the wildlife community, the agricultural community. The one thing we were all going for was a bottom-line desire to avoid the listing,” he says.

Other states, however, haven’t been so quick to find common ground.

“Depending on the day of the week, I’m either really excited about it or really depressed about it,” says David Bobzien of the Conservation Lands Foundation, in Reno, Nevada. “There’s a lot of effort. There’s a lot of resources being expended. But people are falling into the trap of equating effort with effectiveness.”

“We wouldn’t be here if we weren’t losing sagebrush at such an alarming rate,” he says, pointing to wildfires and cheatgrass — a weed that is replacing sagebrush in many areas — as the biggest threats to the bird’s habitat.

“As I look at the state of play in Nevada, I have to wonder, is the state plan going to be sufficient in imposing restrictions? Are there really resources in place? Federal resources are critical to making sure all those projects are being done.”

Every affected state has its issues, and no two states are alike in either the status of their sagebrush habitat or the magnitude of their problems. Some, like Montana and Nevada, are dealing with mines and cattle ranchers and grazing permits. Others, like Utah and Colorado, have the oil and gas industry, and unlike in Wyoming, that road hasn’t been so smooth.

Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo introduced legislation that would delay the decision to list by ten years. 

Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., introduced legislation that would delay the decision to list the sage-grouse by 10 years. Bill Clark / CQ Roll Call / Getty Images

“The oil and gas industry doesn’t want to be told where it can or cannot go. They see this setting places aside as a slippery slope,” says Jessica Goad of the Center for Western Priorities. “But they’re in a bit of a pickle here. Essentially they have two options — either we have stronger plans to stop the decline of the bird, or it can be listed as an endangered species.”

Goad says that in Colorado the oil and gas industry would prefer neither option and has chosen a third: delaying the decision, which is supposed to be made next year.

“It would be delayed and litigated for a very long time. Rep. Cory Gardner has introduced a bill that would delay the listing decision by 10 years,” Goad says.

On May 22, Gardner, R-Colo., joined with other legislators in both houses to introduce the Sage-Grouse Protection and Conservation Act, which would prevent the sage-grouse from being listed under the Endangered Species Act for 10 years.
He is on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and according to, the oil and gas industry was the biggest contributor to his campaign last year.

In Utah, Republican Gov. Gary Herbert sued the federal government for state ownership of public land, including national parks and wilderness areas. Much of the bird’s habitat in in the state, however, is on private land and school trusts.

He recently claimed the bird’s population increased last year. He expanded energy development and has said any listing of the sage-grouse could cost the oil and gas industry in his state more than $41 billion. Oil and gas interests are some of his biggest political backers too.

“There are always loud voices whenever we have a natural-resource issue that’s as big and broad as this,” says Noreen Walsh from the  Fish and Wildlife Service. “What I think is significant about this is the large spectrum, from federal agencies to individual ranchers, to try and head off a listing by improving the prospects for this bird. There are always extremes, but there’s a huge middle. That’s one of the things that are very encouraging.”

Walsh points to other promising signs. In Oregon recently, ranchers signed on voluntarily to manage any threats on their land to the sage-grouse and its habitat. Tom Sharp, chairman of the Oregon Cattlemen Association’s committee on endangered species, said the sage-grouse issue is the “spotted owl of today.”

“But there’s a difference. The sage-grouse issue is the spotted owl on steroids.”

The agreement between the cattlemen and the Fish and Wildlife Service is being replicated across eastern Oregon, which is home to some of the best remaining habitat for the bird. It’s also home to vast cattle-grazing areas, which bring in over $600 million for the state. The ranchers, too, are learning to coexist, says Sharp. “What’s good for the bird is also good for the herd.”

For Ulrich, a fourth-generation Wyoming resident and an avid hunter, interest in preserving the sage-grouse ecosystem extends far beyond maintaining the environment for him and for future generations. “From our standpoint, we have the biggest to lose. We have the predominance of habitat, and most of our economy is based on oil and gas development. From that standpoint, our participation in the decision was the only decision, because we had so much at stake,” he says.

“We [the oil and gas industry] fuel the economy. A healthy percentage of the taxes paid in Wyoming are paid by oil and gas and mining. That keeps the taxes low. We have no personal income tax, a low sales tax, very high quality of living.”

Wyoming, he says, has done its job in protecting the environment in anticipation of the decision whether to list the sage-grouse. He only hopes the other states will also be ready in time.  

The decision will be made in September 2015. If just one of the 11 states fails to find a compromise between its industries and its conservationists, all of them will have to face a tougher future.

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