Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Sage Grouse

If you live in Wyoming, odds are you've heard of the sage grouse, and all the "efforts" to protect this poor, stupid bird.
But, in the big picture, it isn't about the Sage Grouse, the Prebbles Jumping Meadow Mouse, (which is now an admitted non-existent animal) or the raptor bird species. These animals are simply a tool used to access and gain control over private lands.
The Sage Grouse is latest in a long line of animals the government is using in an attempt to control private lands.
And it's working. In an effort to prevent the Sage Grouse being listed on the Endangered Species List, a number of people are implementing and signing agreements to alter their management practices to improve bird habitat, connectivity and overall ability to survive.
So, if the government isn't gaining control, why can't you graze your pastures when you want, put in a water tank when you want and where you need it, if you're involved in these initiative programs?
What makes half our state "core areas" for this bird? And how convenient that these core areas are primarily located where intensive energy development hasn't previously occurred, and that they often stop abruptly at state or federal land borders, but encompass the vast majority of neighboring private lands. Furthermore, these core areas were developed by the "experts," a Governor appointed Sage Grouse Implementation Team...hmmm.
I sat around a table over Christmas, and had a lengthy discussion on the Sage Grouse with members of my family involved in ranching, and energy development (guess I was the press aspect), and it was refreshing and educational to hear what they had to say.
My family member involved in energy development noted that they were doing alright dealing with all the raptor-related issues, but that the Sage Grouse has made things almost unbearable in many locations. He said there will be no more vast energy expansion in Wyoming, because these animal-related regulations are becoming too impossible to deal with, or work with.
He noted that now, in order to get their work done, they have to go in and completely destroy the landscape because they are working so fast, in such a concentrated area, to meet the date requirements they're allowed to work. Certain activities aren't allowed during certain times of they year, because the Sage Grouse are nesting, or mating, or their young are too young to fly.
He noted that the footprint cause by energy development was vastly increased by these regulations, instead of the opposite.
He also commented on a few of the more ludicrous accusations the government has come up with in an effort to stop different aspects of energy development. Salt Beak was one he had quite a laugh over. The proposed issue was that the Sage Grouse would accumulate salt at the base of their beaks from drinking water used in energy development. As the salt accumulated, the birds beak would eventually get so heavy he would tip over, and die.
When they asked the BLM? Game and Fish? (I can't remember which) if there had ever been a case of "Salt Beak" they were told there hadn't ever been one, or any evidence of such a thing. The water in question didn't even have enough salt in it for this to occur.
This is a tactic used almost daily. These outrageous claims of energy, or ranching's indirect negative impact on a wildlife species is used to shut down a number of useful practices, many of which are actually beneficial to the wildlife species in question, like providing fresh, clean water to the birds to drink in places where there wasn't water previously.
The real issue is that sometimes (maybe a lot of the time) the local, state, and national government manage to get these crazy accusations passed, and turned into more regulations that limit both the energy and agriculture communities in doing their job.
Keep in mind that it's these industries that provide you with clothing, food, heat, and fuel, and that the private lands involved in these practices provide the highest quality wildlife habitat in the country.
There is also the issue that the local people have the most power, so there is a vast amount of difference in dealing with the Sage Grouse from one area to another. The court system goes round and round, and my relative said they ultimately can't control these local guys, because they've been given so much power.
In my opinion it's the private lands, and the quality management of the private landowners, that has kept this bird, and all these other species, alive so far. With these ever increasing regulations, it becomes more and more difficult to manage private lands in the best way possible. and every time you sign up your private lands for a government program, or initiative, or agreement, you lose a portion of your control over that land.
In Wyoming, that land is used to produce energy that heats, lights and fuels our country in addition to feeding it through the cattle, sheep and crops raised on it. One amazing benefit to ranching is that proper land management also results in unsurpassed wildlife habitat. What I'm saying, is that prior to the government stepping in with their regulations and attempted control, the private landowners were already doing a better job managing the Sage Grouse than the government ever will. It's important we don't lose control of our lands, be it over a bird or anything else.

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