The Greater Sage Grouse is appropriately named on at least two levels under its current proposed protection under the federal Endangered Species Act. One definition of grouse is that it is a plump, chicken-like game bird with grayish plumage. This is the subject of the current discussion. The other definition is to have a cause for complaint; a grievance. There appears to be a substantial diminution in the population of the popular game bird described in the first definition. As to the second definition, there appears to be a substantial number of the public, farmers, ranchers, and local government officials and political representatives with concerns, complaints and grievances.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service office in Reno, Nevada, 51 participants attended the open house held on Tuesday at the Tri-County Fairgrounds in Bishop. At least a dozen of those attending were from Nevada, ranging from USFWS representatives and other government officials to farmers, ranchers, and environmental groups. Inyo County was also well represented by similar groups.
Whether from California or Nevada, there is a lot of consternation among many individuals and groups on the process which many feel place them at a disadvantage. Scott Burns with Mono County Community Development said, “It is difficult to plan anything, much less a response to a plan, when you have no idea exactly what regulations are being proposed and what regulatory layer is going to be added to the private land owner on top all those they are already forced to comply.”
Burns went on to note that the proposed habitat as it now stands, based on the maps provided thus far, encompasses approximately 82% of the privately owned land in Mono County, a county where only 6% of the land is privately owned; the rest of the 94% is publically owned land. Mono County is composed of 3,000 square miles of land which, when compared to Inyo County’s 10,000 square miles, poses a potentially greater negative economic impact if the proposed habitat is adopted with stringent regulations. There is great uncertainty especially on effect any federal designation might have on agriculture in the Bridgeport and Antelope Valleys.
Given the potential impact, Mono County is asking that the public period for comments be extended to 90-days to give everyone more time to better understand the issues and exactly what is being proposed in order to better represent the interests of the county.
Once the sage grouse is listed as an endangered species, there will likely be no more hunting allowed; or at least that is the consensus voiced by some. Banning hunting for sage grouse according to several county representatives at the meeting will have a definite affect on the local economies that have traditionally had hunting as a part of their local offerings to visitors. When asked about the concern, one USFWS representative pointed out that if the losses of habitat and fragmentation continue, there will not be anything left to hunt.
According to Ted Koch, the Nevada State Supervisor for USFWS and the lead office coordinating the proposal, approximately 1.86 million acres of habitat protection has been proposed. Of that, 1.1 million is on the California side of the border, while the rest is on the Nevada side of the border. He also noted that grazing cattle and agriculture is not necessarily incompatible and that generally only modest measures are needed to safeguard wet meadows and grazing so that adequate ground cover is kept to protect nesting areas and for chicks to hide from predators. He went on to say that they often work with cooperative private land owners who are more often than not, willing to work with them. Most of the measures with ranchers involve strategies to prevent over- and under-grazing that are consistent with good practices which benefit both ranchers and the sage grouse.
The large posters distributed throughout the room during the open house on the Greater Sage-Grouse informed the public that sage grouse are totally dependent on sagebrush-dominated habitats and that it is a crucial component of their diet year-round and important for protection from predators. Wildlife experts say that both habitat and cover requirements are inseparably tied to sagebrush, and therefore you cannot really discuss one without the other. Sage grouse typically breed in areas such as swales, irrigated fields, meadows, burns, roadsides, and areas with low, sparse sagebrush cover are used as “leks” where the birds perform their elaborate mating rituals and reproduce.
At least two more public meetings are planned and will be announced at a later date, while comments on the proposal can be submitted until Dec. 27, at the public meetings, electronically at www.regulations.gov or mailed to Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R8-ES-2013-0042 and FWS-R8-ES-2013-0072; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042-PDM, VA 22203.
Information on the proposals is available on the web at www.fws/gov/Nevada or by calling the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at 775.861.6300.