Editorial: BLM publishes new plans to protect sage grouse

A greater sage grouse male struts for a female. (Pix by Jeannie Stafford for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

The Bureau of Land Management under the Trump administration has followed through on its promise to give states greater flexibility on protecting greater sage grouse. On Friday a 204-page draft management plan for Nevada and northeastern California was published in the Federal Register.

The plan specifically states that its purpose is to enhance cooperation with the states by modifying sage grouse management to better align with the plans created by Nevada and California, covering more than 45 million acres under the jurisdiction of the BLM.

Though it was determined that sage grouse did not qualify for protection under the Endangered Species Act, in 2015 the Obama administration violated the law and ignored scientific evidence when it concocted a 341-page pronouncement that 10 million acres of public land in 16 Western states — nearly a third of that in Nevada — would be taken out of consideration for future mining claims, as well as oil and gas drilling near breeding grounds and that there would be additional reviews on grazing permits. The plan envisioned restrictions on grazing, resource development, solar and wind energy, and public access to public land in Nevada.

According to a press release put out by the BLM announcing the new plans, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval welcomed the more cooperative stance by the agency. “I look forward to reviewing the draft Environmental Impact Statement and I trust that the Department of the Interior will continue to engage with and value the opinions of the impacted western governors,” Sandoval was quoted as saying. “I am confident we can find success by working together.”

Nevada’s senior U.S. Sen. Dean Heller was quoted as saying, “The Department of the Interior’s proposed changes represent an important step toward returning power back to our local communities, and lifting the Obama Administration’s heavy-handed regulations that have put major restrictions on millions of acres of land in Nevada and stifled economic opportunities.”

Congressman Mark Amodei, who represents northern Nevada, commented, “I would like to thank the secretary for doing a much-needed revisit of the previous administration’s policies regarding sage hen habitat. I look forward to hearing back from our stakeholders in Nevada regarding the proposed changes and plan to familiarize myself with this draft and provide further input.”

The publication of the draft plan opens a public comment period. The BLM will accept comments through Aug. 2. Comments may be submitted by mail:  BLM – Greater Sage-Grouse EIS, Nevada State Office, 1340 Financial Blvd., Reno, NV 89502; or online at https://goo.gl/uz89cT.

The Nevada-California plan is posted online at: https://eplanning.blm.gov/epl-front-office/projects/lup/103343/143703/176904/NVCA_GRSG_DEIS_201805_508.pdf

The BLM also will conduct public meetings during the public comment period, which will be announced later.

The agency expects to publish a final Environmental Impact Statement and plan amendments by October.

Nevada’s BLM Associate State Director Marci Todd stated, “Two important developments have occurred since the 2015 plans were adopted. First, we’ve had two to three years to invest time and effort into improving sage grouse habitat. Second, we have received a great deal of feedback from our state partners about how the plans are working on the ground and needed changes.”

We welcome the fact that someone in the federal land bureaucracy is finally listening and recognizing the fact that people need to earn a livelihood in rural Nevada and can do so without endangering the sage grouse population.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.

 

 

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Newspaper column: Nevadans welcome review of sage grouse land use plans

Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt, who had filed a lawsuit attempting to overturn the Interior Department’s 2015 land use plan to protect greater sage grouse, is praising the recent decision by the Trump administration to review those plans.

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke signed an order establishing an internal review team to evaluate federal and state sage grouse plans and report back to him in 60 days. He specifically called on the review team to consider local economic growth and job creation, as well as protection of the birds.

“While the federal government has a responsibility under the Endangered Species Act to responsibly manage wildlife, destroying local communities and levying onerous regulations on the public lands that they rely on is no way to be a good neighbor,” said Zinke after issuing the order. “State agencies are at the forefront of efforts to maintain healthy fish and wildlife populations, and we need to make sure they are being heard on this issue. As we move forward with implementation of our strategy for sage-grouse conservation, we want to make sure that we do so first and foremost in consultation with state and local governments, and in a manner that allows both wildlife and local economies to thrive. There are a lot of innovative ideas out there. I don’t want to take anything off the table when we talk about a plan.”

Greater sage grouse (BLM pix)

Though Interior decided to not list the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act, its land use plan essentially barred mineral exploration on 3 million acres in Nevada and locked out most economic activity on 10 million acres in a dozen Western states.

Laxalt was quoted in a press release as saying, “My office remains dedicated to protecting the interests of Nevada and ensuring that federal agencies take our unique needs and concerns into account. We look forward to working with Secretary Zinke to develop a plan that protects the greater sage grouse in ways that recognize Nevada’s expertise and commitment to this important issue, and that also preserves and expands Nevada jobs in sectors like mining and ranching. An intelligent sage grouse plan can do both successfully.”

In October 2015 Laxalt filed suit on behalf of the state and was joined by nine Nevada counties, several mining companies and a ranch. The suit repeatedly stated that the various federal land agencies ignored state and local input on the land use plan.

Nevada’s senior Sen. Dean Heller also welcomed the Zinke review.

“I am pleased that Secretary Zinke is initiating a review of the previous administration’s sage-grouse land use plans and committing to work with those who know how to best protect threatened species: states and localities,”
Heller stated. “As I have consistently maintained, allowing states like Nevada to have a seat at the table as an active participant in the discussion surrounding conservation efforts is central to the viability of the sage-grouse. Moving forward, I am hopeful that the Department of the Interior will partner with Governor Sandoval and the Nevada Sagebrush Ecosystem Council to begin targeting the real threats to sage-grouse and their habitat: invasive species, wildfire, and wild horse overpopulation.”

News accounts quoted Zinke as saying the Republican governors of Nevada, Utah and Idaho all prefer that the sage grouse plans give them more flexibility and rely less on habitat preservation “and more on numbers” of birds in a given state.

Gov. Brian Sandoval has complained in the past about Nevada’s input being ignored. In one letter he stated, “I believe the proposed land withdrawal will not be able to show any measurable results except for the demise of the mineral exploration industry in Nevada. The urgency to implement the withdrawal proposal prior to conducting the proper analysis needed to evaluate the efficacy of the action and socio-economic impact of the action is unclear,” adding that the agencies involved have “provided no science or analysis at any level to support the rationale” for excluding mining operations.

Interior’s draft environmental impact statement estimated its grouse restrictions would reduce economic output in Nevada each year by $373.5 million, cost $11.3 million in lost state and local tax revenue and reduce employment by 739 jobs every year for the next 20 years.

And it all may be for naught. According to a 2015 Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies survey, the population of greater sage grouse had grown by nearly two-thirds in the previous two years — before the implementation of strict land use plans.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Newspaper column: Governor offers a way to save sage grouse and mining

Gov. Brian Sandoval is imploring the Interior Department to accept a state-created alternative to its proposed draconian plan to remove millions of acres of federal public land from productive use — specifically mining — as a way of paying lip service to saving greater sage grouse habitat.

In September the federal agency declined to list the bird under the Endangered Species Act and instead issued land use plans that bar mineral exploration and development on nearly 3 million acres within Nevada and restricts grazing and public access on a total of 16 million acres in the state.

Greater sage grouse (Rawlins Daily Times via AP)

On Jan. 15, Sandoval sent a letter to Neil Kornze, director of the Bureau of Land Management, which is a division of Interior and the agency overseeing the bulk of federal public lands in the state, asking him to accept a state proposal that would essentially swap parcels of land to be protected. Instead of restricting mining on 555,000 acres as the federal land use plan outlines, the state plan would restrict mining on 394,000 acres, but the swap would protect an additional 44 active sage grouse leks, as breeding grounds are called. The swap also could free up as many as 3,700 existing mining claims.

The governor warned in a press release this past week that failure to negotiate in good faith would result in his administration pursuing legal options.

Such a legal option is already being pursued, though the governor has insisted it is premature. The state, nine counties, three mining companies and a ranch have filed suit in federal court to block the land use plan.

A Reno federal judge refused to grant an injunction but a trail could take place this summer.

In his letter, Sandoval argues that the grouse protection restrictions would have serious economic impact on the Nevada economy and jobs.

A single lithium mining project in Humboldt County is estimated to have a direct economic impact of $2.5 billion over the life of the project and indirect impact of $3.4 billion, while creating 9,000 person-years of employment and half a billion dollars in salaries. State and local tax revenues are expected to exceed $100 million.

Lithium is used to make lithium-ion batteries used in electric and hybrid cars. The Tesla Motors/Panasonic battery manufacturing plant near Sparks is expected to consume a huge amount of lithium.

“I believe the proposed land withdrawal will not be able to show any measurable results except for the demise of the mineral exploration industry in Nevada,” Sandoval pointedly states. “The urgency to implement the withdrawal proposal prior to conducting the proper analysis needed to evaluate the efficacy of the action and socio-economic impact of the action is unclear,” adding that the agencies involved have “provided no science or analysis at any level to support the rationale” for excluding mining operations.

As for the threats to sage grouse habitat, Sandoval notes, as he has repeatedly in the past, that wild horse overpopulation, invasive species and huge wildfires that consume hundreds of thousands of acres at a time pose a far more significant danger to the grouse than mining, but little, if anything, is being done about those threats.

Additionally, there is relatively little reliable information on just how threatened the grouse population really is. Sandoval’s letter notes one major grouse habitat region nearly doubled in population during a recent three-year period.

Though Interior Secretary Sally Jewell stated that valid existing mining claims are exempt from any withdrawals, the governor points out that the definition of such valid claims cannot be found in the Federal Register. There is a question as to whether unpatented mining claims — on which millions of dollars in annual fees have been paid but the claims are not yet worked — will be classified as valid existing claims. Sandoval said this needs to be clarified.

In a press release this past week, Sandoval described his proposal as a win-win. “The proposal detailed in the state’s response delivers a ‘win-win’ solution in an effort to achieve the mutual goals of preserving our thriving mining industry, protecting the sage-grouse and enhancing its habitat and maintaining our state’s vast potential for future economic development opportunities. With the correct plan and management Nevada’s mining industry, the sage-grouse, and future economic development can all coexist and flourish in the Silver State,” he wrote.

BLM Nevada spokesman Stephen Clutter told The Associated Press, “We will certainly give serious consideration to these ideas as well as the other scoping comments we have received.”

That would be a change from past behavior.

A version of this column appears this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel, the Lincoln County Record and the Sparks Tribune — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Newspaper column: Federal bureaucrats ignored state and local input on land use plans

You have the right to remain silent.

No, you have the obligation to remain silent, because if you don’t you’ll be slapped with the very thing you’ve worked against for four years at the cost of millions of dollars and countless man-hours — listing of the greater sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) — and then be sent to bed without your supper.

Talk about being treated like the proverbial red-headed stepchild.

This essentially is what the U.S. Attorney for Nevada has said in reply to a federal lawsuit that seeks an injunction to stop draconian land use restrictions, which almost entirely ignore state and local input, despite repeated promises of cooperation, coordination and adherence to strict scientific standards.

U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden’s reply to the suit filed by Attorney General Adam Laxalt could be paraphrased thusly: Shut up, sit down, move to the back of the bus, or we’ll list the damn bird anyway.

Greater sage grouse (BLM photo)

“Finally, the government’s interest and the public interest weigh strongly against an injunction,” states Bogden’s reply. “Numerous stakeholders, including state and local governments, participated in a four-year process to create a landscape-level framework for protecting Sage-Grouse and avoiding the need to list the species under the ESA. That process was based on the best available science and on extensive good faith negotiations with interested parties. An injunction would diminish the protections for Sage-Grouse, undermine the collaborative effort that went into the Plan Amendments, and could have implications for FWS’ (Fish and Wildlife Service) recent decision not to list the species. Accordingly, the motion for a preliminary injunction should be denied.”

The part about participation is true — sort of like the condemned man participating in the firing squad — but the claims of best available science, good faith negotiations and collaborative effort are entirely bogus.

Bogden repeatedly tells the court the injunction should be denied because the claims are not “ripe.” Though the plans have been drafted and appeals have been denied, the plans have not yet been fully implemented.

Translation: No one may sue the federal bureaucracy until it has actually carried out its threat to put you out of business, making it impossible to afford to hire a stable of attorneys to fight the bottomless taxpayer well of cash for the next two or three generations.

Witness the saga of the Hage family ranchers who have been fighting in federal court since 1991 over water and grazing rights for their ranch near Tonopah. A judge awarded them $4 million but a federal appellate court in 2012 remanded the case to a lower court, saying it was not “ripe,” because the family had failed to “exhaust administrative remedies.”

With utter disregard for economic realities, Bogden also argues that the plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate “imminent irreparable injury,” providing merely speculation.

It is merely speculation that Elko County anticipates an annual loss of approximately $31 million of agricultural productivity.

It is merely speculation that the Ninety-Six Ranch owners say “restrictions threaten the survival of the ranching operation and devalue the ranch’s land and resources because, a reduction in or cancellation of its grazing permits will threaten the viability of its business and significantly reduce the saleable value of the Ranch.”

It is merely speculation that the “termination of Paragon’s (Paragon Precious Metals) rights under the General Mining Law to explore its only project creates such substantial, imminent, and irreparable harm that it will likely destroy Paragon’s business.”

It is merely speculation that for Quantum Minerals the “sudden termination of Quantum’s rights under the General Mining Law to explore its only project will destroy Quantum’s business.”

It is merely speculation that changes in land use plans will jeopardize Western Exploration’s $32 million investment.

Nothing to be concerned about. When those things happen the federal land agency bureaucrats will still have their jobs and pensions, and that’s not speculation.

The claim the federal government has been collaborative in reaching its decisions is a joke. Laxalt’s lawsuit uses a variant of the word “ignore” 22 times.

Before Laxalt filed suit, appeals by Gov. Brian Sandoval to both the head of the state BLM and the national BLM were summarily snubbed with cursory explanation.

A hearing on the request for an injunction is scheduled for Nov. 12 in Reno in front of U.S. District Judge Miranda Du.

This whole case is illustrative of the real problem with having 85 percent of Nevada land under the tight-fisted control of power-drunk Washington bureaucrats.

A version of this column appears this week in the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel, the Lincoln County Record and the Sparks Tribune — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

The suit: Nevada v Dept of Interior Am Complaint

U.S. attorney’s reply to suit.

Branding at the Ninety-Six Ranch:

Newspaper column: Let states continue efforts to protect sage grouse without listing

Greater sage grouse

Perhaps there is still hope that aggressive conservation and mitigation efforts by Nevada and the 10 other states where greater sage grouse range can stave off a listing of the ground-dwelling birds under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), a decision that would have an economic impact on mining, agriculture, logging, oil and gas exploration, rights of way, electricity transmission lines and recreation.

The latest ray of hope comes from a decision by the Interior and Agriculture departments this past week to withdraw a proposal to list the bi-state sage grouse under ESA. In October the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to designate as threatened the distinct sage grouse population found along the northern California-Nevada border.

The original plan was to set aside nearly 1.9 million acres in Carson City, Lyon, Douglas, Mineral and Esmeralda counties in Nevada, as well as land in Alpine, Mono and Inyo counties in California, as critical habitat for the remaining 5,000 or so bi-state sage grouse.

Fish and Wildlife opened a comment period and then extended it when evidence came in that the bi-state grouse population was healthier than first reported.

The deadline for a decision on the bi-state grouse was April 28. The deadline for a decision on the greater sage grouse is September of this year.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell credited the decision to relent on listing the bi-state grouse to local efforts to preserve habit and limit impact. “What’s more, the collaborative, science-based efforts in Nevada and California are proof that we can conserve sagebrush habitat across the West while we encourage sustainable economic development,” Jewell was quoted as saying in a press release.

Gov. Brian Sandoval said the “announcement highlights the critical partnerships that must exist for our conservation strategies to be effective and demonstrate that sage grouse and economic development can coexist in both the bi-state area and across the range of the greater sage grouse.”

When Sandoval makes the argument to not list the greater sage grouse he now has a 30-page “Sage-Grouse Inventory” published in March by the Western Governor’s Association listing various conservation efforts taking place in Nevada, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming to slap down on the table.

The inventory shows Sandoval has included $5.1 million in his fiscal year 2015-17 budget for sage grouse conservation efforts. Additionally, the Nevada Mining Association members have developed habitat conservation plans on 1.2 million acres.

Companies such as Noble Energy, which is exploring for oil and gas in Elko County, and other such companies are voluntarily restricting operations in ways that promote conservation.

Nevada’s Sagebrush Ecosystem Council has been meeting regularly for several years, working on implementing and building upon recommendations from the Governor’s Sage-Grouse Advisory Committee. Various state agencies have spent over $7.4 million since 2012 on greater sage grouse conservation.

Elko County alone has spent more than $100,000 “to provide greater sage grouse management, conservation, preservation and rehabilitation measures, strategies and funding sources to … benefit sage-grouse without the loss of the county’s heritage, culture and economy.” None of that was federal money.

Efforts are being made across the West to fight the encroachment on sagebrush range by pinyon and juniper, which should require little more than a herd of goats, a few chainsaws or brush hogs.

Earlier this month lawmakers in Carson City were pressing forward with Assembly Joint Resolution No. 2, which would address one of the major causes of sage grouse population declines. The resolution asks Congress to remove or alter protections under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 for the common raven. Raven populations have exploded across the West because development of power lines and fences and pinyon and juniper give the birds higher perches from which to spy and attack sage grouse nests to eat the eggs.

“A known cause of decline in the sage grouse population is egg depredation by the common raven, and research conducted at Idaho State University has suggested that reductions in the raven population significantly increase sage grouse nest success,” AJR2 reads in part

Sen. Pete Goicoechea, a Eureka Republican, said federal agencies permit killing a few ravens but not nearly enough.

Perhaps, all those coordinated efforts will sway Interior to give conservation efforts a chance.

A version of this column appears this week in the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel, the Lincoln County Record and the Sparks Tribune — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Newspaper column: States can do a better job of saving endangered species … and jobs

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973 was intended to protect the grand and noble eagles, bears, whooping cranes and condors, but it has turned into a tool for self-styled environmental groups to wipe productive human endeavors from private and public lands for the sake of protecting bugs, minnows, rodents and weeds.

During a recent online conference put on by Watchdog Wire, a network of citizen journalists, two authorities on the topic who come at it from the free market side suggested the best way to fight the ESA is to embrace its goal — saving species, as reported in this week’s newspaper column, available online at The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Greater sage grouse

Greg Walcher, president of the Natural Resources Group, noted that in the history of the ESA there have been more than 2,100 species listed, but fewer than half of 1 percent have been taken off — 10 because they were extinct.

He and Brian Seasholes, director of Reason Foundation’s Endangered Species Act project, said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been pressed by groups such the Center for Biological Diversity and Wild Earth Guardians into listing hundreds of species as endangered. In 2011 the federal agency settled a lawsuit by agreeing to list 757 species by 2018. Among those is the greater sage grouse, whose habitat covers much of Nevada.

Walcher, a former Cabinet Secretary of Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources, said:

“The endangered species protection and recovery was an enormously popular issue in our state, literally at 80-20 polling issue. People overwhelmingly support protecting and recovering endangered species and yet in the just concluded campaign every place we went it seemed like people were mad about it and he got asked about it on the campaign trail over and over and over again by angry people. It just struck us as sort of strange that people are no contentious and bitter, antagonistic and even litigious over issue that we supposedly all agree on.

“So we decided to take a completely different approach in our state — nothing particularly new or different about what was going on in Colorado, but based on three really essential premises. One, that the Endangered Species Act is one of the most powerful laws enacted by Congress when some federal official you’ve never heard of who is five rungs below anyone accountable can declare a species to be endangered or threatened and that kicks in a whole body of federal law that just sort of seems to trump everything else — other federal laws and state laws and local operations and everything else.”

Walcher said the state discovered — with respect to several specific species in Colorado — that there not only was no recovery plan in sight but no one ever really talked about goals or delisting criteria.

Colorado pikeminnow

“In fact, they didn’t have the first clue what that criteria ought to be,” Walcher said. “We started actually with the endangered fish in the Colorado River, because it’s a series of water issues that affect the well being and economy of 30 million people in seven states and is a part of a 75-year-old battle over use the Colorado River in the most arid part of the county where you have to be able to divert water out of that river and use it or you can’t live there.”

Colorado engaged the federal agency in a years-long battle, before it unilaterally spent $5 million to build a hatchery dedicated to endangered fish.

“We began putting razorback suckers and bony-tailed chubs and humpback chubs and Colorado River pikeminnow back in the river by the hundreds of thousands,” Walcher said.

“There came an ah ha moment for me … The Fish and Wildlife Service literally tried to tell us it was illegal to do that,” he said. “They brought in batteries of federal lawyers to tell us the state wasn’t even allowed to possess an endangered species much less raise them in captivity and reintroduce them into the wild. It was all very political, so we responded by saying, well, OK then the governor’s going to have a press conference on the capitol steps and tell the world that you, the federal Fish and Wildlife Service, are opposed to recovering endangered species.”

That stopped that.

Instead of confronting the agenda of environmentalists with arguments about how it affects human endeavors and the economy, Seasholes suggests states show the public how the ESA is harmful to its stated purpose. He noted how the law’s onerous penalties — “$100,000 and/or one year in jail if you harm one species, one egg, one chick, anything, or even if you harm its habitat” — provides a strong incentive for landowners to rid their land of endangered species and their habitat — often called shot, shovel and shut up.

Seasholes stated:

“Those of us in sort of the free market, limited government camp tend to think about environmental issues, especially stuff like the Endangered Species Act, as issues of secondary and tertiary importance. I think that you really need to pay attention to this issue because the Endangered Species Act is going through a phase of unbelievable growth right now. It is going to start touching parts of the country it has never touched, start touching sectors of the economy that have been relatively untouched, especially oil and gas. The Endangered Species Act is increasingly being used as a regulatory means to do other things, whether it is water quality, air quality, global warming. There is global warming slash climate change push with endangered species. So I think that this is something our side has really not paid much attention to its detriment. …

“But we have a winning had to play with this because the Endangered Species Act is so damaging and detrimental to its purpose of preserving endangered species.”

Another example cited by Walcher was how the Forest Service wrote up management plans for forests in Colorado to protect lynx, which had not been found in the state in decades and never amounted to a population of more than 18 even then. But the agency intended to close roads and ban snow mobiles and stop logging, grazing and drilling.

Lynx

The state imported hundreds of lynx and there are now more than ever before.

Though environmentalists and Fish and Wildlife bitterly opposed the restocking in private meetings, Walcher said, “I can tell you that not one time did any environmental organization or any federal agency ever publicly criticize us for it. … Who’s going to stand up in front of a room full of people and say, ‘You know I don’t really care about those fish I just want to control the water and stop growth in the Southwest.’ Or, ‘I don’t care about the lynx, I just wanted to stop logging.’ Or, “I don’t care about the Gunnison sage grouse, I just want to stop grazing and ranching.’ Nobody can admit to some other agenda, because the public wouldn’t be with them then.”

Federal agency reopens comment period for listing of bi-state sage grouse

Whoa, did not see that coming.

On Tuesday 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 sage grouse as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Back in October FWS reported there were only 5,000 bi-state or Mono Basin sage grouse, supposedly a distinct population, left along the northern California-Nevada border. The agency said it would set aside nearly 1.9 million acres in Carson City, Lyon, Douglas, Mineral and Esmeralda counties in Nevada, as well as land in Alpine, Mono and Inyo counties in California, as critical habitat. This could lead to restrictions on mining, grazing, farming, fences, oil and gas exploration, roads, power lines, wind turbines and solar panels, various forms of recreation and more — costing jobs and economic development.

This opened a 60-day comment period.

A Mono Basin sage grouse. (National Park Service photo)

In its Tuesday 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.

With the extension of the comment deadline, FWS now plans to make a final determination on the bi-state sage grouse no later than April 28, 2015. The agency already has a deadline of September 2015 to decide whether to list the greater sage grouse, which are found in 11 Western states.

Among those questioning the science behind the greater sage grouse proposed listing is the Center for Environmental Science, Accuracy and Reliability (CESAR), headquartered in Colorado.  CESAR claims the service relied almost exclusively on studies written by employees of federal agencies who basically peer reviewed each other’s work.

Those studies listed “threats” to the grouse as including converting sagebrush to crop land, livestock grazing, oil and gas wells, wind and solar farms, roads and the general “human footprint,” but made no mention whatsoever of predators or hunting, even though 207,000 sage grouse were killed by hunters between 2001 and 2007.

According to CESAR, it was unable to replicate the analyses used by federal researchers because none of the data or algorithms was publicly available.

“Thus, since the results are neither reproducible nor verifiable,” CESAR said, “the study fails the fundamental litmus test of sound science.”

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.

Congressman Mark Amodei applauded the reopening of comments, but said only time will tell. “The proof will be at the end of the comment when we’ll be able to see if anything has really changed,” his spokesman said.