Chamber News: Chamber favors state-based plan for protecting sage grouse

2014-04-01T00:00:00Z Chamber News: Chamber favors state-based plan for protecting sage grouseBy BRUCE MacINTYRE The Billings Gazette
April 01, 2014 12:00 am  • 

An issue plaguing agriculture, energy development and environmentalists today is the preservation of the sage-grouse, a bird with breeding habitat in plains and grasslands through the upper northwest states of Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Idaho, California, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, North and South Dakota and Montana.

Because the birds nest on the ground under sagebrush or in grass patches, their habitat can be threatened by development. Habitat concerns are leading to a very real threat that sage grouse could be listed under the Endangered Species Act and the result would dramatically impact the energy and agriculture sectors of Montana’s economy.

The Billings Chamber will continue to be a strong supporter of agriculture and energy growth and development, and wants to see that protecting sage grouse does not significantly affect the economic future of our partners in Eastern Montana and the regional economy.

Recent figures show the sage grouse population has dropped to a current range of from 200,000 to 500,000, and a significant contributor to the drop is the loss of habitat (nesting areas). There is a growing movement on the federal level to make sage grouse an endangered species in 10 western states. It affects the nesting areas and the impacted areas are substantial, particularly in Eastern Montana, western North Dakota and most of Wyoming.

This habitat issue is widespread and diverse, affecting each area differently. Not all areas in these states have significant losses in population. In fact, there is a significant sage grouse population in Eastern Montana. Thus a blanket, federal mandate is not the best solution. Sage grouse are an endangered species in a very small area of California and Nevada, not a comprehensive 10-state area.

Recently, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock appointed a sage grouse habitat conservation advisory council to develop a strategy with the goal of avoiding a threatened or endangered listing by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Chamber suggests the best position for Montana is to be closely aligned with the plan requirements in Wyoming. Wyoming’s plan, providing a comprehensive strategy to protect sage grouse, is approved by the USFWS. We also believe that the cost of not imposing a state-based plan, and instead facing a federal listing of the sage grouse to the endangered list, would be detrimental to the energy activities generating the substantial portion of Montana’s tax revenue.

The solution must include measures that adequately protect sage grouse habitat and preserve the economic activities that Montana relies on. In Montana, sage grouse can be hunted with an upland bird license. Statewide regulation allows us to maintain the unique needs of our state and economy without sacrificing an important species. By developing our own plan we hope to circumvent a more devastating potential outcome if federal requirements are implemented. For more information go to http://fwp.mt.gov/fishAndWildlife/management/sageGrouse/ or weigh in at ChamberListens.com. http://www.billingschamber.com/chamber-listens/.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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