By Dave Maxwell
Senator Dean Heller R-NV, spoke with reporters during a rural telephone conference call Feb. 4 focusing on the potential listing of the Sage Grouse under the Endangered Species Act and recent efforts to lessen the impact of such a listing.
Heller, along with Senator Hary Reid, released a discussion draft of legislation that would help protect Nevada’s economies from the listing of the Sage Grouse as an endangered species. Senator Heller is currently in the process of receiving feedback about the draft bill.
“I absolutely oppose listing of the sage grouse,” he said. In my conversations with miners, ranchers and farmers around the state, they see as much sage grouse as they have seen in years out there in the rural portions of the state. At the same time, I think I am very consistent in this draft legislation that the federal government should not be dictating to Nevada where some of this area is that they want to protect, Heller said.
Listing of the sage grouse by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife is asking for 20 million acres of habitat, covering about 11 states, to be protected in the current court case. The Record of Decision is slated for September 2015.
Heller said, “If it (sage grouse) does get listed, the last thing we want is the federal government making any decisions in Nevada as to where those lands are protected. I think it’s a state issue, and the governor and his sage brush council should decide these areas, if in fact a listing does happen. It is not my responsibility as a U.S. Senator to determine which portions of land should be protected.”
A website on which to give comment and read more about the draft is: http://firstname.lastname@example.org.
Heller said has talked recently with Rhea S. Suh, a nominee for the position of Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife, who, if selected, promised in her position with USFW, she would work very closely with the state to be sure the comments and suggestions made on the draft legislation would be listened to at the federal level, and not go unheeded.
It is possible, Heller explained, the sage grouse could be listed instead of an endangered species, but rather as “threatened” which would have a different set of mandates and requirements.
However, he is hoping more the state will develop its own plan, then Nevada would be exempted from the government listing as in the other 10 states. “What we are trying to do is make sure that the state is in charge, not the federal government, but it’s going to be tough to keep it from being listed,” he said.
He noted, “Wyoming and Idaho have also been working on their own plans for a couple of years, we’re a little bit behind in Nevada with our sagebrush ecosystem council, and that’s why Sen. Reid and I have jumped in to try to help them, and in this draft, delegating all the authority to the state so the governor can make the decision and the sagebrush ecosystem themselves, and then further down, the City Council, Commissioners, etc. Certainly a better decision than the federal government would ever make.”
On another issue, Heller said the PILT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) program was fully funded for another year, as it was attached to the Farm Bill, which the Senate passed Feb. 4, and now to onto President Obama for his signature.
Heller said he supports PILT, but wished Congress, “would quit attaching it to some of these spending bills. I think the reason they do that is use it as a bone to try to get some of us western Senators to vote for some of these very, very expensive piece of legislation.”
He said he is currently working on legislation with Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado to permanently fund the PILT program.