Governor’s species concerns reportedWritten by Natasha Wheeler
Casper – The endangered species status of the Greater sage grouse, wolf and grizzly bear are currently a concern for the state of Wyoming, according to Jerimiah Riemann, natural resource policy director in Governor Matt Mead’s office.
Riemann addressed attendees of the 2014 Wyoming Stock Growers Association Winter Roundup, held Dec. 1-3.
Greater sage grouse
There are currently 15 Environmental Impact Statements in the western states under joint consideration of the BLM and U.S. Forest Service for Greater sage grouse.
“In Wyoming, we have three outstanding Resource Management Plans (RMP) – the Buffalo RMP, Bighorn Basin RMP and the Nine Plan,” stated Riemann.
Proposed final drafts are scheduled for release in spring of 2015. Once the plans are released, there will be a 30-day comment period for the public.
“It will be important for all of us to evaluate those documents,” Riemann explained.
Ninety-five percent of BLM grazing leases will be affected if the Greater sage grouse is listed as an endangered species, and roughly 40 percent of private lands would fall into critical habitat.
After seven years in the making, the record of decision was signed earlier this year for the Lander RMP. Forty percent of Wyoming’s Greater sage grouse population resides within the boundaries of this plan.
“The Lander RMP represents the first RMP that was signed anywhere in the West that includes the Greater sage grouse,” Riemann explained.
He continued, “We are certainly eager to continue the implementation of this plan to demonstrate the efficacy of Wyoming’s plan and our ability to protect sage grouse under that.”
Riemann noted that hunting should be considered in the context of the landscape, calling it an adequate regulatory mechanism for the management of the grouse. Wyoming, through the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, has moved the sage grouse hunting season from being one of the earliest in the year to a later season.
“There is only a very short period of time when we can hunt those birds,” Riemann said.
Hunting allows for management of the populations within habitats that can support the Greater sage grouse, he explained.
Eleven states are currently reviewing Greater sage grouse management strategies.
“Wyoming remains the only state with a plan that has been endorsed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), but others are coming along,” said Riemann.
He hopes that the states can retain control and that sage grouse does not become a federally protected species, as the wolf recently has.
Since a court ruling returned control of wolves to the FWS the state is considering all of its options to regain management of wolf populations, according to Riemann. These include filing an appeal to overturn Judge Jackson’s ruling and working with congress to revise the rule.
“FWS did file a notice of appeal,” Riemann said.
He continued that this does not necessarily mean that they will file an appeal, but that they gained 60 days to determine how they want to proceed. It could take upwards of six to eight years for a judicial review to complete, if that course of action is taken.
Governor Mead has also asked Congress to review the ruling, Riemann stated. That course of action could take as long as two years.
“Wyoming continues to have conversations with FWS, to determine what pieces of our management plan they might ask us to revise,” said Riemann.
He noted that it is important to remember the wolf is a federally protected species.
“Wyoming does intend to continue animal damage payments. The state will not participate in law enforcement actions, and Wyoming will continue to look at all of the options,” he said.
Riemann then moved on to discuss the endangered status of the grizzly bear.
“This is the Governor’s next priority in terms of delisting,” he explained.
Riemann continued that data and information compiled shows that populations have exceeded the recovery criteria set by both the state and FWS.
There has not been as much urgency under the current Secretary of the Interior to move forward on the issue as there was under the last Secretary, he said.
The Governor has requested that processes start immediately for delisting the grizzly bear.
“It is time for us to move forward on this species,” stated Riemann.
He believes that Wyoming can prove its abilities to manage all wildlife species of Wyoming, including grizzly bears, wolves and Greater sage grouse.