Congressional Republicans slammed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision yesterday to designate the Gunnison sage grouse as threatened under the Endangered Species Act and to mark off 1.4 million acres of land in Colorado and Utah as critical habitat for the bird.
“The Service’s efforts to work with plaintiffs to extend the court settlement deadline to allow more time for development of conservation commitments by counties and states were unsuccessful, and therefore the agency must proceed with this listing and critical habitat designation today,” FWS said in a statement.
Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), who ousted Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) last week in midterms, said that the federal agency was actually uncooperative where the state tried to arrive at a solution.
“I’m incredibly disappointed to see FWS move forward with their decision to list the Gunnison sage grouse as threatened,” Gardner said. “The state of Colorado has not only shown a willingness to work with FWS, but an eagerness to work with FWS to protect the Gunnison sage grouse without a listing under the ESA.”
“Species conservation and economic growth do not have to be mutually exclusive goals, but FWS has avoided working with Colorado to ensure that we preserve both the Gunnison sage grouse and protect the jobs that will be lost as a result of this listing,” he added.
About 80 percent of the overall population of the protected bird lives in the Gunnison Basin in Colorado, impacts 797,423 acres. Estimates of the population of the ground-dwelling bird hover around 4,000.
The FWS insisted that the listing “will have no impact upon many of the area’s agricultural landowners.”
“Those who previously entered into agreements known as ‘Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances’ need only to continue to abide by those agreements in order to fully comply with the ESA. Other landowners who participate in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service programs including the ‘Sage-Grouse Initiative, ‘Working Lands for Wildlife’ and the ‘Conservation Reserve Program,’ can continue to implement the practices covered by those programs with the knowledge that they will be consistent with the ESA.”
The agency “intends to propose in early 2015 to allow still other ranchers, farmers and other landowners who commit to Gunnison sage-grouse conservation to continue to manage their lands without additional restrictions.”
The ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee said the listing was the latest in a pattern of the Obama administration’s abuse of the ESA.
“Rather than taking into account all the work done at the state and local level to protect the Gunnison sage grouse, the Obama Administration continues its assault on energy development and private property rights by abusing and expanding the reach of the Endangered Species Act,” Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) said. “This listing, which comes as part of the mega-settlement between the FWS and far-left environmental groups, proves what we’ve been saying for years – that the Administration is more interested in using the ESA to take control of private property and shut down oil and gas production than it is in protecting species.”
FWS Director Dan Ashe said that “while many people hoped that the extraordinary conservation efforts by our partners in Colorado and Utah would resolve all the threats faced by the Gunnison sage-grouse, the best available science indicates that the species still requires the Act’s protection.”
“This is a work in progress, however, and we will continue to join our partners in protecting and restoring the rangelands with the hope that, in the near future, the Gunnison sage-grouse will no longer need additional protection,” Ashe said in a statement.