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Good, Bad And Really Ugly

Written by Dennis Sun

      As I wrote this column last week, the decision to list or not to list the sage grouse was made, and there were no big surprises. Leading up to the decision, we heard more and more that the decision was taking on a political slant. Imagine that coming from Washington, D.C.

OK – I got my dig in on Washington. The good part of the decision is that the sage grouse wasn’t listed and the state of Wyoming, and other western states didn’t have to deal with a listing, either. A decision to list would have made the bird, in our eyes, their bird. How would we have dealt with that? We don’t have to figure that out now. 

The best of the good part in this decision is that our past and present Governors were leaders in dealing with the bird. Did they take the right action? At this time we’ll say yes, but only history will tell if they made the right decisions. We commend them for their vision, willingness to make some tough decisions and ability to find the right people to work on the issues.  There is no doubt that without Wyoming’s vision and hard work, our ability to work with others to solve problems and the leadership of our Governor, the bird could have been easily listed. Wyoming prodded, poked and kicked and then helped other states get going on their sage grouse plans. The Secretary of Interior, Director of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other Governors recognize this. No doubt about it, Wyoming was the leader.   

I didn’t at the time – and still don’t – like the idea of waking up one morning and having our ranch colored green as a sage grouse core area, but I was willing to march to the tune to see this through. I did benefit from some Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) programs, and I even allowed them to place some trinkets on the fences around a lek, but I thought the benefits were earned. I also developed a Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances and worked with the Bureau of Land Management to do a Candidate Conservation Agreement on the ranch, as the BLM lands are so intermingled with our private lands. It was kind of like an insurance policy, I guess.

The bad is found in the BLM and Forest Service plans. We know that there were some terrible restrictions in them at first, but Governor Mead’s staff has really worked hard to get some of them corrected. Also, we expect that environmental groups will sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to list the sage grouse. Will FWS put up much of a fight or roll over?  This fight is going to be a lawyer’s dream, and we thank our Governor, his staff and all those in the state who have worked so hard on the issue.

The really ugly part is that the sage grouse issue decisions will not be based on science. No matter who says what, it will be political or by a judge, and that’s scary. How many lawsuits will it take? How many laws from Congress will we need to get past this issue? How many more millions of dollars will it take and loss of dollars to businesses, states and communities while ranchers and energy interests suffer and wait for the next round?  

As a rancher, I know my management has not harmed the bird, but what consequences are in our future that I have no control of?