There is currently considerable controversy on whether or not to protect the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act. Read on to find out why.
The sage grouse is in the middle of a significant population decline, mainly due to loss of suitable habitat. However, the bird is also in the midst of significant controversy regarding whether or not it should be granted protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Because the sage grouse has such a large range (over 165 million acres spanning 11 states), granting the bird protection under the Endangered Species Act is a massive undertaking.
Since protecting a species under the ESA means significant restrictions on the activities that may take place in and around the habitat of the species in question, many businesses and landowners are opposed to granting the sage grouse ESA protection.
Unbeknownst to the sage grouse, it has become the center of a firestorm of controversy in Washington D.C. about how to implement the Endangered Species Act.
On one side, oil, ranching, and agricultural interests want continued access to the gigantic tracts of sagebrush, which is where the sage grouse lives, for drilling and grazing purposes. These interests see the listing of the sage grouse, along with the significant intervention by the federal government on land containing sage grouse populations, as a case of big government overreach.
On the other side, two environmental groups, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and WildEarth, have filed lawsuits against the United States Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) in attempts to force the federal government to protect the sage grouse. These groups see opposition to the listing of the sage grouse as proponents of wanton destruction of untouched wilderness by big business interests.
In a calculated attempt to force the issue with FWS by inundating the agency with paperwork and litigation, CBD and WildEarth have filed dozens of lawsuits and petitions to protect various different species over the past few years.
With a shrinking budget, FWS has been overwhelmed by these new lawsuits and petitions. As a result, FWS has made several out-of-court agreements with CBD and WildEarth regarding conserving habitat and protecting different species.
However, members of Congress are upset with these deals because they were made outside of the control of Congress and the original intent of the Endangered Species Act.
For instance, retired Representative John Dingell (D-MI), co-author of the Endangered Species Act, said the current state of affairs does not reflect the original intent of Congress when it passed the law:
The intent of the Congress … is being significantly perverted, both by the polluters and the people who want something done.
Among others, Congressman Rob Bishop (R-UT) and Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), are attempting to overhaul the Endangered Species Act by giving more power to states and trying to increase the transparency of legal settlements and listing decisions.
According to Senator Inhofe:
The Endangered Species Act has gone from a well-intentioned piece of legislation in the 1970s to one that is dictated by environmental activist groups taking advantage of the adversarial system.
Unfortunately, this is an extremely complicated situation and there doesn’t seem to be an easy way out. It is expected that there will be many more lawsuits regarding the listing decision of the sage grouse, no matter what the government’s ultimate decision is.