Newspaper column: How to save the sage grouse — or not

Between Christmas and New Year’s Day in 2011, without any hearings or public notice, the Bureau of Land Management issued its “Greater Sage-Grouse Interim Management Policies and Procedures” with the stated goal of preventing the bird being listed under the Endangered Species Act.

The 8,000-word “interim” document is a nearly impenetrable compendium of bureaucratese, as reported in this week’s column in The Ely Times and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Just three months after the guidelines were issued, using the sage grouse as its excuse, the BLM slashed the number of acres to be auctioned for lease for oil and natural gas exploration in the Ely and Elko districts from 133,000 acres to only 72,000 acres. (As if that weren’t bad enough, the BLM recently told an oil exploration company that its drilling rigs and pump jacks should not be visible from the California Trail in Elko County. This affects 22 of 33 well sites.)

It was pointed out at the time that the biggest threats to the grouse are wildfire and predators, not drillers and miners.

Meanwhile, county commissioners across the range of the sage grouse have been grousing about roads being closed and thousands of acres being removed from public economic use for the sake of the sage grouse.

Another front in the battle was opened recently by a liberal conservation group called the Western Watersheds Project (WWP), which filed a federal lawsuit in Idaho claiming the BLM’s Ely district is not doing enough to protect the chicken-sized bird with the flashy mating rituals. The suit is one in a long series by this group.

WWP describes its mission on its website as “to influence and improve public lands management in 8 western states with a primary focus on the negative impacts of livestock grazing on 250,000,000 acres of western public lands.”

The newest lawsuit accuses the BLM of allowing the construction or reconstruction of over 400 miles of fences, drilling of water wells and constructing reservoirs, pipelines and livestock watering facilities “in direct contradiction to BLM’s own management guidelines, policies and other provisions designed to protect and enhance sage-grouse populations and habitat.”

The suit claims that just about any use of the land is detrimental to the grouse.

A reduction in grazing on federal land in recent decades fueled a rapid increase in wildfires that destroy sage grouse habitat. Prior to 1980 fewer than 25,000 acres of wildfires occurred each year in Nevada. Since then the BLM and Forest Service have cut cattle grazing in half and sheep grazing by 80 percent. It is not uncommon now to have three-quarters of a million acres of Nevada burn in a year.

Rather than killing economic activity on public lands, the BLM should be closely monitoring a sage grouse conservation experiment at the 15,000-acre Devils Gate Ranch in Elko County.

Whose method do you think will save sage grouse?

The entire column at the Ely or Elko sites.

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3 comments on “Newspaper column: How to save the sage grouse — or not

  1. Wendy Ellis says:

    Drilling rigs and pump jacks “should not be visible?” These are very minimal eyesores, which take up a minimal amount of land, compared to wind turbines and solar panels! Acres and acres of vegetation and wildlife habitat is destroyed when solar panels are installed on public lands. As for wind turbines, they sure knock a lot of birds out of the sky. As for the costly transmission lines constructed to accommodate wind and solar, they destroy habitat and the view.

    It’s amazing how we are all made to toe the line to protect the species du jour of the federal government…and how quickly they backpedal when it suits them. They don’t give a fig about wildlife or habitat. The ultimate motivation is control over human beings and our behavior.

  2. I always thought pump jacks were pretty. I wished I owned a few.

  3. Vernon Clayson says:

    Pump jacks could be called the heartbeat of the nation for at least the last century, I grew up in southwestern New York, next door to northwestern Pennsylvania where the industry started, the sound of the pumps and the smell of petroleum were ever present across both areas. Olean, NY, and Bradford, PA, had acres and acres of oil storage tanks, I recall Sinclair was big, once in a while a tank burned but it was a local concern, employees and firemen put the fires out, and politicians didn’t attempt to shut the industry down for fear it would end civilization. The tanks are mostly gone but there’s still a few pumps. There’s gas aplenty in the area but now there’s contention from tree huggers and political gamers that recovering it will end life as it is known, for them fracking is a curse word. An out of the area company wants to put windmills up in an area that survived on oil production for decades, these oil people are not so easily fooled.

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