State of Zen for Sage Grouse

The Los Angeles Times reports on how the US Interior Department made a decision about sage grouse:

The Interior Department declared Friday that an iconic Western bird deserves federal protection under the Endangered Species Act, but declined to offer that protection immediately — a split decision that will allow oil and gas drilling to continue across large swaths of the mountainous West.

The department issued a so-called “warranted but precluded” designation for the greater sage grouse, meaning that the bird merits protection but won’t receive it for now because other species are a higher priority.

Yes, that’s right, sage grouse are an endangered species, but not so endangered as to have us do anything about it.

The “other species” bit is a particularly bogus piece of argumentation. The fact is that listing sage grouse as an endangered species would put most of the burden on developers, who would have far more stringent requirements to meet to show that their projects would not unduly impact sage grouse. Plus, I’d like to hear the list of endangered species that are getting better attention within the Department of the Interior because they don’t have to pay attention to sage grouse. That ought to be darkly amusing for a while as we contemplate what the Department of the Interior has done for them.

Now let’s have a look at what Department of the Interior head honcho Ken Salazar had to say:

“The sage grouse’s decline reflects the extent to which open land in the West has been developed in the last century,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in an issued statement.

“This development has provided important benefits, but we must find common-sense ways of protecting, restoring and reconnecting the Western lands that are most important to the species’ survival while responsibly developing much-needed energy resources,” Salazar said. “Voluntary conservation agreements, federal financial and technical assistance and other partnership incentives can play a key role in this effort.”

Let’s see, Salazar correctly notes that the problem for sage grouse is one of habitat loss. Then, Salazar goes on to emit some bafflegab that doesn’t actually imply that anything will be done that has any effect on habitat loss. There’s already a history of “voluntary conservation” when it comes to sage grouse: I don’t think that the rate of habitat exploitation has even slowed due to this; I’d appreciate comments from people who have the numbers. The feds are broke, so there isn’t much that we can expect in the way of financial assistance there. The feds have given the technical assistance that would be of help (“If you build it, they will go away.”), and it has been ignored. I’m not sure what a “partnership incentive” is, but my suspicion is that it is merely pretty pettifoggery to try to obscure the fact that the Interior Department has decided that corporate interests are more important than the survival of the sage grouse as a species.

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Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.