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Health, Science & Environment

State Seeks Lobbyist to Fight Sage Grouse Listing

U.S. Forest Service

Utah is proceeding with its controversial strategy to protect the greater sage grouse, as state officials solicit bids from lobbyists to keep the bird off the endangered species list.

Jeff Hartley, an energy industry lobbyist, says the state needs more time to show sage grouse numbers are growing because of its approach.

“People need to know the states are making this effort and doing good work,” he said. “A listing would be bad for the state of Utah. And so to educate Congress, and thereby prevent a listing, is in the state’s interest.”

Hartley cites a state Office of Energy Development report that says, if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decides next year to put the sage grouse on the endangered species list, it could cost upwards of $20 billion for the energy industry alone.

“If you draw circles around a nesting site with a four-mile buffer, given the sage grouse habitat in Utah, you shut down a lot of agriculture, you shut down a lot of energy development,” he said. “You could potentially cripple the economy of the state of Utah.”

The Legislature budgeted $2 million dollars for hiring lobbyists this year to intervene with Congress and the federal agencies.

Allison Jones, executive director of the WildUtah project, says Utah leaders are overblowing the costs. And Jones says it’s a waste of taxpayer money to attack the federal government’s plan for rescuing the sage grouse.

“They are just trying to chink away at the Endangered Species Act,” she said. “But they’re doing it in a blatant way. It’s a troubling thing for those of us who really care about wildlife and want to see our natural heritage --  and all the species here in Utah that belong here – healthy and viable into the future. There’s better ways to secure our natural heritage in Utah.”

Jones points to a legislative audit last year that questioned state spending of hundreds of thousands of dollars on lobbying to take the gray wolf off the endangered species list.

The sage grouse lobbying proposal is modeled on the wolf one. But Hartley says the auditors’ suggestions have been included in the latest lobbyist request.

The request for proposals closes next week.

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