Sage Grouse and Land Grabs


Studdert.jpgIf you have lived in the West for any significant amount of time, you are likely aware of the long-standing battle western states have faced with the struggle over the potential ESA listing of the Greater-Sage Grouse, a bird about the size of a football. In this Spring's edition of Range Magazine, Stephen M. Studdert shares his insight into the real motivations behind this federal push, and how with one stroke of a pen, more than a billion acres of public and private land have been taken over by out-of-control federal bureaucrats. 

Studdert, a sixth-generation westerner and former senior White House advisor to three presidents, does an excellent job of explaining how the battle over preserving the Greater-Sage Grouse was really a ploy to gain control over the West. 

The legal battles over the potential listing of the Greater-Sage Grouse have been brewing for over 10 years, since 2005 when Western Watersheds Project filed suit to list it as a threatened or endangered species. States have been forced to spend exorbitant amounts of money to prove that no listing was warranted, and agreed to bend over backwards to preserve, enhance, and restore greater-sage grouse habitat. All for not.

Costs borne by these western state governments have been exceptional, including enrolling thousands of ranches in the effort to help "protect" 55 million acres of habitat. Since 2006, for example, Utah--with an estimated total sage grouse population of 13,000 birds--has treated over 1,120,491 acres of wildlife habitat at a cost exceeding $300 million. With an estimated 308 sage grouse, North Dakota has also spent millions.

With just a handful of days remaining before the September 30 listing deadline, U.S. Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell, a nonelected political appointee of President Obama, ambushed states rights and private property rights when quietly behind closed doors she determined that state and private efforts to save the greater-sage grouse mean the bird no longer faces extinction and does not need to be listed as an endangered species. Some heralded this camouflaged federal ploy as a victory for all parties. 

But read between the lines...With the stroke of her pen, this bureaucrat bypassed years of legal contests, leaving the fed's management plan and rules and agenda in force, and let the states carefully crafted plans go by the wayside. The federal plans are so excessively restrictive and costly that they are equivalent to a listing under the Endangered Species Act, but without any legal process or challenge... Hence the Obama plan for control of western land, both public and private, just found greatly expanded authority.

Wyoming Congresswoman Cynthia Loomis, chair of the Congressional Western Caucus...characterized the "protections" invoked by BLM and Forest Service land-use plan amendments as just as onerous as a listing. "With the stroke of a pen, the Obama administration's oppressive land-management plan is the same as a listing. Now successful conservation done at the state level will be in vain. The new command-and-control federal plan will not help the bird, but it will control the west which is the real goal of the Obama administration."

Saying Jewell's move "changes nothing," House Natural Resources Chairman Bishop adds: "They did not go through the front door. They went through the back door.... They have the same type of control as if it is listed."

This policy is nothing more than a disguised land grab by federal bureaucrats. While some state plans provide a one-mile buffer around a lek (the mating area of a sage grouse), federal plans require a three-mile zone.... So if the habitat is 173 million acres and the feds want a three-mile protective envelope, federal control of a billion acres or more of public and private land may be the result. And all this has little to do with a sage grouse that is protected by responsible stewardship: it has everything to do with federal bureaucrats controlling not only our land but everything that happens on it, no matter who owns it. 

Mr. Studdert concludes, "While the greater-sage grouse may not now be an endangered species, what is endangered is private property rights.... The battle for recourse if available, can be costly and time consuming, often beyond the resource of individuals and businesses, but never beyond the deep pockets of government."

That's the bad news. But the good news is this: On Dec. 9th of 2015, Utah's Legal Team, hired to "evaluate alternative legal theories that Utah may use in court to attempt to gain ownership or control of the public lands within its borders", released its findings. In summary, the report highlights multiple legal grounds upon which western states can sue to gain control over the public lands within their state. Critics flinch at the potential $15 million price tag that such a lawsuit might require, but this pales in comparison to the enormous losses states are suffering due to federal mismanagement of public lands and costly infringements on private property rights within our borders.

Our mission is to compel our leaders to band together to legislate, and if necessary litigate, to free our lands from this sort of constant nonsense promulgated by unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats in Washington DC. Transferring public lands to willing states is the only way to win back the West and restore the balance we need to produce a healthy environment, abundant outdoor recreation, and safe, vibrant communities. 

Read the Entire Range Magazine Article HERE. Click below to support our efforts by becoming an official member of the American Lands Council or upgrading your membership today!


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