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Private Land Rights Come First

For those of us who are involved with sage grouse, this is the time of year when we make our annual lek counts. It’s also an important time of the year for Wyoming as a whole, as those counts somewhat dictate the future of the bird, and thus the future of much of Wyoming. Some claim the bird is holding us hostage here in the West, and that its importance is overrated.
Whatever you’re thinking on the matter, we do have to deal with the issue, whether you call it blackmail or conservation on a state level. They say Wyoming has about half of the sage grouse in the western states, so we must be doing something right, and I mean that from an agricultural, and maybe even an energy industry, standpoint.
I suppose Governor Mead will have to make a decision about extending the Executive Order that designates the core areas that protect the sage grouse; common sense says he should do it. The Endangered Species Act is holding us all hostages, but even in that law there is a stipulation for a “takings.” That provision should also be in the Executive Order to protect private land rights, which many others and I feel are way more important than a sage grouse, bear, wolf or plover. I think that those who wrote the first laws, on which our country was founded, also thought that way.
Through the USDA, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Wyoming received around $13 million of $25 million allocated to the western states. The money was for conservation easements on private lands prevent habitat fragmentation. In other words, the number one threat to sage grouse is development. That opens another discussion – conservation easements. You either love them or hate them.
My feeling about easements is that they are a landowner’s private right as to whether or not to have one. That private right to choose is more important than arguing about easements. Either way you choose is right, because it is your decision and right as the landowner, period. People need to realize that the easement is a one-time payment, and it lasts forever. It doesn’t have to stop mineral activity, and it can be your best decision or your worst decision – it all depends on your needs. I’ve always compared easements to selling calves on the video – you make the deal, and then you sell. It’s a value for a value, and the more you withhold, the less you get, but it’s your decision.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is responsible for listing endangered species and also removing them from the list, needs to cut Wyoming some slack and show us some good faith. This state is bending over backwards to manage for the sage grouse. A number of landowners are working on Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances, or CCAAs, that would protect them and their businesses, should a sage grouse listing occur. At this time, the easements the NRCS offers wouldn’t do that – they just protects the habitat. But, either way, private land rights should come first. Always.
Dennis