From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 2, Number 35 - November 27, 2002
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Sage-grouse impacts on local communities

by Cat Urbigkit

The greatest impact of a federal listing of sage-grouse populations in the West will come to those who live more closely with the land, a new policy paper reveals.

"Conservation of Greater Sage Grouse on public lands in the Western U.S.: Implications of recovery and management policies" is the most recent policy paper published by the Policy Analysis Center for Western Public Lands of Caldwell, Idaho.

The paper notes that with all the public interest in sage grouse, management emphasis will now be placed on the species in terms of public land management. Sage-grouse are already granted some sort of "sensitive species" status by federal land management agencies, so a future Endangered Species Act listing could be somewhat anti-climatic.

"This status opens the land-management policy process to actions intended to support sage grouse that are tantamount to species recovery actions," the paper noted, even without an Endangered Species Act declaration.

"In our opinion, impacts are most likely to fall on those whose lives are intertwined most closely with public lands policies on a daily basis: public land ranchers," the report stated. "Secondary impacts will flow to the communities in which they live. Other groups have legitimate interests, but are less likely to experience tangible impacts in the very short term.

"The second group is likely to be rural communities in general. Not only do they feel the impacts through ranchers, but also hunters and localized fiscal impacts on other economic activities like energy development, road building, etc. The cumulative effects on local communities more or less account for most of the local impacts."

Some uses of public lands could be curtailed to further grouse conservation, according to the report.

"If sage grouse were listed under the Endangered Species Act, it is logical to expect that placement of all new perturbations into occupied sage-grouse habitats would be closely examined," the report noted. "For example, power line placement would most likely be outside of sage-grouse use areas or in designated corridors. Alteration of fences to reduce direct mortality from collisions and to reduce the number of raptor perches could also be expected."

In addition, "All disruptions are not created equal, and different groups are likely to experience direct consequences from grouse recovery differently.

"Real estate developers, local municipalities and energy companies are most likely to have their developing activities curtailed. ... An ESA listing could essentially stop energy development on or near sage-grouse habitat.

"Endangered Species Act listing of sage grouse could result in further restrictions to, or elimination of, hunting and falconry across the species' range," the report stated.

So what about livestock grazing and grouse?

The policy paper stated: "The key policy issue before us is this: to restore grouse populations, sagebrush ecosystems will have to be managed for the benefit of the bird ... We can see from the range of data that grouse and grazing coexist in many, if not most, areas, so we know with reasonable certainty that grouse and livestock are not mutually exclusive."

Environmentalists' claims that livestock grazing harms grouse are viewed as anti-grazing rather than pro-grouse since there is little scientific data to back up such a claim, the report stated.

"Our general opinion is that any argument that livestock grazing presently is the primary cause of sage-grouse population decline cannot be supported by available research," the authors of the policy paper wrote. "Relatively healthy populations of sage grouse occur where domestic livestock graze sage-grouse habitats, and grazing management in these areas results in habitat characteristics that support sage-grouse populations."

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