When it comes to controversy, few things get less controversial when politicians get involved. The same may unfortunately be true in the ongoing debate over whether the greater sage grouse should be listed as an endangered species.
Earlier this month Colorado Sen. Corey Gardner stepped into the issue when he introduced the Sage-Grouse Protection and Conservation Act in Congress as a way to ban the federal government from listing the bird as an endangered species. The US Fish and Wildlife Commission is expected to issue a ruling on the matter in September.
The issue has already had its share of controversy and heated public meetings, and it does not just affect Colorado. The greater sage grouse protections proposed by the agency looks to include 165 million acres in 11 states.
In Wyoming, where more than 38 percent of the nation’s sage grouse habitat exists, expanding state protections were already drawing criticism from energy companies such as Jonah Energy. The company owns a natural gas lease on part of the 173,000 acres where the state wants greater protections.
Company spokesman Paul Ulrich told the mapping group this month that the decision “fundamentally changes our plan of development,” according to the WyoFile.com.
Meanwhile, a Bureau of Land Management spokesman told the group the protections were entirely needed for an area where an estimated 2,000 sage grouse and other birds come to breed.
“There’s nowhere else we know of [that] this many birds [are] wintering consistently over time,” BLM biologist Dale Woolwine told the group. “Two thousand birds – that’s greater than anything that you guys, I’m assuming, have considered in other proposals.”
In Colorado, where just 4 percent of the nation’s sage grouse live, some are calling foul on Sen. Gardner’s proposal. In a Denver Post op-ed, Routt County Commissioner Tim Corrigan said it “undermines good-faith efforts currently underway to conserve the species.”
“Instead of more delays, which put us in this position in the first place, we should focus on creating and implementing strong state and federal plans to protect the bird, its habitat and our local economy,” he wrote.