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Health, Science & Environment

Utahns Skeptical of Sweeping Sage-Grouse Plan

Photo of sage grouse.
Photo by Phil Douglass, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources</i>
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The U.S. Interior Department opted against adding the sage grouse on the endangered species list, thanks to efforts by Utah and other states to boost bird populations.

Interest groups across the political spectrum stood behind federal leaders Tuesday as they announced the Greater Sage Grouse won’t be added to endangered species list. The solution didn’t suit Utahns on either end of the political spectrum, even after U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said states can stick with strategies they’re already using to restore the iconic bird on millions of acres in 11 states. Jewell praised the approach as a model for the future.

“That’s what we see today: Thoughtful law, galvanizing individuals to not only save the species but also the entire landscape and heritage of the American West,” she said at a Colorado press conference on a successful sage-grouse protection site.

Her enthusiasm was echoed by governors from differing political parties in states with big stakes on the line in energy and agriculture if their sage-grouse plans fail. The Audubon Society applauded the partnership, and a Nevada rancher did too.

But Utah Governor Gary Herbert and Congressman Rob Bishop complained the federal government is overreaching again. John Harja, public-lands advisor for Herbert, says this federal solution to Utah’s sage-grouse problem won’t work.

“On one aspect, we don’t have a listing,” he said. “But, if you had a listing, you would have to have a recovery plan. You’d move to recover the species, and we all participate in that. We don’t have a chance to change things now. We’re stuck with what they have for 20 years.”

Utah’s spent millions fighting a sage-grouse listing, and now it’s looking at legal options even though it won that fight.

Allison Jones, director of the Wild Utah Project, worries that the new approach isn’t tough enough.

“Now is not the time to proclaim victory,” she said, “and wiggle-room our way back to business-as-usual on our western public lands.”

Jones says there should be assurances over the long-term to make sure the states’ strategies succeed. That would take at least three decades in her view.

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