SALT LAKE CITY — Federal officials granted protection to the Gunnison sage-grouse Wednesday, declaring it officially threatened under the Endangered Species Act, but it’s a move some Utah lawmakers and wildlife officials oppose.
The director of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Greg Sheehan, stated in a press release that listing the bird as threatened could actually hurt the bird more because it reduces the ability for local officials to continue helping it.
For example, DWR officials said if it wants to work with a landowner and a federal agency to complete a habitat project to help the grouse, they have to go through a federal review process. They said that process would take a lot of time and resources.
“We’re disappointed that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service believes that extensive conservation efforts in Utah and Colorado aren’t sufficient enough to protect the species,” Sheehan stated. “The USFWS hasn’t given many of these efforts the time needed to show the efforts work.”
Rep. Rob Bishop and Rep. Jason Chaffetz, both Republicans representing Utah, oppose the decision as well. They said wildlife management needs to be handled at the state and local level. See the bottom of this post for their statements.
According to the press release from the DWR, the Gunnison sage grouse is found mostly in southwestern Colorado and a handful also live in San Juan County, which is in southeastern Utah.
The ESA listing will likely heavily restrict oil and gas development as well as ranching and recreation on 1.7 million acres of federal land in Utah and Colorado, according to a press release detailing the objections held by Bishop and Chaffetz.
Statement from Rep. Bishop: “States, local governments, and public land users are working collaboratively to restore the Gunnison sage grouse populations and progress continues to be made. Restoration of the species is not something that can fully be measured overnight and it’s premature to supersede state and local actions with an ESA listing. Based on the federal government’s track record of ESA recovery, I’d say that listing this bird is not the panacea. This is yet another case of the federal government thinking it is smarter and more capable than the states and communities, a notion I flatly reject.”
Statement from Rep. Chaffetz: “Wildlife management needs to be handled at the state and local level. That’s where the rubber meets the road. Local land-users are better equipped to develop management plans that both maintain and improve the health of wildlife and local habitat. It is disappointing that the federal government is undercutting local efforts in San Juan County by imposing this listing that will have a big impact on local communities in southeast Utah.”