If you can’t get a bill passed in Congress telling a federal agency to stop doing something, just slip some language into the appropriate appropriations bill denying funding for doing it.
That’s what happened with wild horses. Though the law expressly says the secretary of Interior must destroy excess wild horses, for the past several years Congress’ appropriations measures for the department have just as expressly denied funding to do so.
Congressman Mark Amodei, who represents Nevada’s 2nd Congressional District covering most of northern Nevada, is following that game plan when it comes to heading off the economically crippling designation of greater sage grouse as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act, as reported in this week’s newspaper column, available online at The Ely Times, the Elko Daily Free Press and the Mesquite Local News.
He was successful in including language in the 2015 fiscal year Interior, Environment and Related Agencies appropriations bill, delaying any such listing for one year. Not only does it stop the listing of greater sage grouse, but also the bi-state sage grouse that live along the northern border of Nevada and California, as well as Columbia Basin grouse and Gunnison sage grouse.
“More time is needed to convince the Department of the Interior, which controls the vast majority of the sage hen habitat, to undertake the necessary work to conserve the resource and prevent the ESA listing,” said Amodei.
Not that the federal agencies have much solid proof that any of those grouse populations are truly threatened with extinction anytime soon.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service posted on the Federal Register a proposal to reopen the comment period on its decision to list the bi-state grouse, because their data was getting serious challenges from authoritative sources.
Back in October 2013 Fish and Wildlife reported there were only 5,000 bi-state grouse left.
In its Federal Register posting, FWS said it had found substantial disagreement regarding the interpretation of the best available data on the birds. “Some commenters stated that our science was flawed and that there are more sage-grouse in the Bi-State area today as opposed to the past, whereas other commenters (including peer reviewers) believe there is a declining trend and continuing threats. It is evident in the comment letters received that analysis or interpretation of data vary between state, agency, public, and peer reviewers,” the FWS concedes.
Before listing either the bi-state or the greater sage grouse, someone needs to do some sound scientific studies and realistically look at what truly is a threat to these birds — including the lack of wildfire prevention efforts on federally controlled land.