Preserve sage-grouse habitat plans

This fall marks two years since the achievement of one of the most groundbreaking Western conservation efforts in history.

On Sept. 22, 2015 then Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell was joined by Colorado’s democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper and Wyoming’s Republican Gov. Matt Mead to announce plans that would keep one of the West’s most iconic native species off the endangered species list. This bi-partisan collaboration for the conservation and protection of the greater sage-grouse is a model for how our country can shape smarter policies for the future.

That announcement in 2015 was the culmination of years of hard work by all 11 Western states and their governors, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Department of the Interior, and stakeholders throughout the West.

The land management plan sets a standard for 21st century conservation. The strategy used by the various government agencies to avoid the need for an endangered species listing for the grouse represents the largest landscape-level conservation effort ever undertaken. The multi-agency effort broke down barriers among federal agencies, combining the hard-won results of public-private partnerships between landowners and USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service with the expertise and leadership of the Bureau of Land Management, the nation’s largest land manager.

Unfortunately, President Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke have decided to throw a wrench in all of that hard work and collaboration. Instead of celebrating the anniversary of this historic bipartisan effort, Secretary Zinke is implementing top-down changes that will undo years of locally-driven, collaborative solutions to managing sage-grouse on our public lands. The original sage-grouse plans were a success because they brought together stakeholders from all walks of life to work out a mutually suitable solution. The process encouraged public input and cooperation, ideas were exchanged and compromises were made, and at the end of the day all voices were heard.

As a sportsman, outdoor recreation enthusiast and business owner, I followed the process intently and was pleased with the result. However, with Zinke doing away with public input and making major changes to the plans, it has become abundantly clear, that as was the case with his national monuments review, that he thinks a few powerful special interests and individuals in Washington D.C. know better than the Westerners who depend on these landscapes for recreation and their livelihoods.

As someone who enjoys hunting, fishing and exploring the public lands across the West’s sagebrush steppe, I have grave concerns for the future of the 350 species that call this ecosystem home. Zinke’s proposed changes to the plans will have devastating effects on wildlife habitat for not just greater sage-grouse, but also mule deer, pronghorn and elk. The changes also threaten our ability to enjoy countless outdoor recreation activities across northwest Colorado’s sagebrush seas and being able to enjoy our public lands is part of what makes Colorado so great.

Instead of celebrating the non-listing decision, we’re again looking at an uncertain future regarding the management of our public lands and the undermining of collaborative conservation.

As a westerner, Secretary Zinke should understand that we don’t want constant changes based on the prevailing political winds and we certainly don’t want folks from Washington D.C. undermining or undoing our hard work.

So rather than continuing to push an unpopular agenda of eliminating conservation protections, perhaps Zinke can simply provide the necessary support to ensure that the diverse stakeholders who know what’s best for the West can fully implement the ideas and plans that they developed.

Jacob Thaden is a sportsman, outdoor recreationist of all kinds and the owner of The Gear Junction.


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