Tags: sage grouse | endangered | species | House | Senate | Western states

Revered Sage Grouse Bird Sets Off Debate in Congress

By    |   Thursday, 21 May 2015 07:37 PM

Republican lawmakers are working to keep the sage grouse from becoming an endangered species through the $612 million military bill, The New York Times reports.

The sage grouse lives in western states from Washington to North Dakota down to New Mexico and Arizona, where the chicken-like bird is greatly cherished. Republicans are trying to add a measure that would prevent new protections from being enacted on behalf of the bird, according to the Times.

Members of the House GOP have been pushing to scale back environmental regulations since they won the majority in 2010, which they have done through amendments to major spending bills. Most attempts didn't make it through the formerly Democratic-controlled Senate, but that could change now that the Senate is held by Republicans.

"Cutting the administration’s unnecessary red tape that hurts businesses and our economy has been, and will continue to be, a priority of the Appropriations Committee," Jennifer Hing, a spokeswoman for the House committee, told the Times.

The Times notes that while the GOP has sought to weaken the Endangered Species Act since the 1990s, Republicans have grown increasingly more aggressive toward that goal in recent years. But the recent fight over the sage grouse has been particularly emotional, as their numbers have dropped to the thousands in the U.S.

"There’s a remarkable amount of national focus on the sage grouse," Jason Grumet, of the Bipartisan Policy Center, told the Times.

"The impacts of this listing would be broader, geographically, than any other endangered species that the government has ever listed," Grumet explained. "It covers 150 million acres of land, which is a lot of land, the whole western United States. It’s 11 states. A third of the country would be affected."

House Republicans have argued that adding the sage grouse to the list would affect military training operations.

House Armed Services Committee spokesman Claude Chafin said "there would have been a readiness impact."

However, Defense Department spokesman Mark E. Wright told the Times that managing the bird has not affected its "military-readiness activities."

"Because we have already undertaken these actions voluntarily, and expect to need to manage for the sage grouse indefinitely, we do not believe the listing decision — regardless of the outcome — will affect our mission activities to any great degree," Wright said.

Protections for the birds are already in place in some states, and some question if federal regulations are needed.

Experts from conservation groups in Colorado and Utah testified at a hearing in the House on Tuesday, saying the states' regulations have been effective, the Deseret News reported.

"As someone representing a state which has invested decades in sage grouse conservation, the relentless efforts to force more standardized and irrelevant mandates on the use of the land not only threatens the conservation of the species, but unnecessarily imposes hardship on the hard-working citizens of the West," said Kathleen Clarke of the Utah Public Lands Policy Coordination Office at the hearing.

"I firmly believe that regulations don't conserve species; people do," Clarke added.

The military spending bill that limits protections for the sage grouse passed in the House May 15. The Senate is expected to consider similar amendments.

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Republican lawmakers are working to keep the sage grouse from becoming an endangered species through the $612 million military bill, The New York Times reports.
sage grouse, endangered, species, House, Senate, Western states
Thursday, 21 May 2015 07:37 PM
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