If the federal land agencies insist on requiring special protections for sage grouse in Nevada and across the West, they should bear the brunt of the cost and not the state and local governments and private landowners, says Rep. Mark Amodei, who represents northern Nevada.

To that end he has introduced a bill — H.R. 4419, the Sage-Grouse and Endangered Species Conservation and Protection Act.

Amodei notes that 84 percent of the sage grouse habitat in Nevada is controlled by the federal government, but the federal land management agencies have requested almost no funding to carry out sage grouse habitat protection, such as wildfire prevention. They are passing the burden of funding on to the state and to private landowners.

“The number one threat to sage hen habitat in Nevada is wildland fire,” said Amodei. “Yet the federal land management agencies, who own the vast majority of the habitat, have not prioritized funding needed to undertake the necessary work to conserve the resource and prevent the ESA (Endangered Species Act) listing. Instead, they point fingers in an attempt to saddle state and private landowners with the responsibility for funding projects that are absolutely the responsibility of the federal government. This is nothing short of extortion and sadly adds another chapter to the war on the West story.”

The federal government has already determined the sage grouse are deserving of protection under ESA but gave it a lower priority than other species. Under court order, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must decide by September 2015 whether to list the birds as threatened or endangered. (A ray of hope was revealed recently when the Fish and Wildlife Service reopened comments on the bi-state sage grouse, which live on the Nevada-California border. The agency said comments had called into question the scientific basis for declaring the bi-state population to be threatened.)

H.R. 4419 would require the feds to pay for conservation work prior to listing a species. To pay for that, the bill authorizes the federal land agencies to sell small parcels — 160 acres or less — to pay for conservation measures. That would have the added benefit of putting more land into private, productive use.

“Federal land managers cannot continue to pretend that they have no financial responsibility to lead by example in protecting and restoring the vast majority of sage hen habitat they own in Nevada and the West,” said Amodei.

Thus far federal land agencies have largely ignored the role of predators as a threat to sage grouse, a major cause of any sage grouse population decline, if there really is any.

Amodei’s bill allows federal agencies to implement predator control, specifically ravens, which have grown in population in recent years from 100,000 to 190,000, but are protected from being killed under the North American migratory bird treaty.

 The bill also would authorize federal lands agencies to engage in fire suppression, pre-treatment, fuels management, and fuel breaks, invasive species control (including experimental biochemical controls), habitat restoration, wild horses and burros fertility control, adoption, and other non-slaughter management, predator control, controlled burns, re-seeding and targeted grazing to reduce wildfire fuels.

In addition, the bill spells out that designation of critical habitat under the ESA that imposes restrictions on land use would be subject to a Fifth Amendment takings finding and make private property owners eligible for fair-value compensation. Private property would include permit holders such as grazing permits. 

We support this bill and call on all members of the Nevada delegation in Washington to get behind it for the sake of the state’s economic future. — TM