Questions about the sage grouse in Lincoln County and other parts of the west will continue to be a topic of conversation and controversy for some time to come.
On July 20, Montana governor Steve Bullock signed an agreement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture pledging cooperation on efforts to protect declining populations of greater sage grouse.
The board of Lincoln County Commissioners is also actively involved in the same process.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has set September 30 as the deadline to decide if the chicken-sized bird need federal protections, although Congress has blocked additional spending by the agency to put those protections in place.
Montana becomes the first state in the West to sign such an agreement with the USDA.
Since 2010, the Natural Resources Conservation Service has invested nearly $300 million to conserve more than 4.4 million acres of sage grouse habitat in 11 western states in which the bird is found.
About a month ago, U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell told a meeting of Western governors at Lake Tahoe, she is confident an Endangered Species Act listing of the greater sage grouse can be avoided, but that any additional delays in that decision would be counterproductive.
An article in the Reno Gazette-Journal stated Jewell criticized congressional action that put off any potential listing until after 2015. A court-ordered decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as to whether a listing is warranted or not is due by Sept. 30.
“The last thing you want is uncertainty,” Jewell said. “We have uncertainty now. If we delay, we will continue uncertainty.”
Last April, Jewell announced that a unique subspecies of sage grouse that lives only along the Nevada-California line, the bi-state sage grouse, does not need listing as a threatened or endangered species due to successful efforts to preserve bird habitat. The coming decision affects a much larger population of greater sage grouse that lives in Nevada and 10 other western states.
Here in Nevada, Republican Congressman Mark Amodei is looking for votes for a plan to prohibit the Interior from withdrawing federal land to conserve or restore sage grouse habitat without a governor’s approval.
A June article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal said the Amodei amendment would prevent the government from putting into place habitat conservation measures unless “affected state, county and local land use and zoning authorities have been given a reasonable opportunity to review and approve the decision.”
He said he was “seeking the strongest voice for states and communities that stand to be the most affected by grouse-related controls on energy exploration, mining and grazing,” and he also does not think the end of it has been heard yet, by any means.