Grouse ruling reflects value of collaboration

It’s not often groups representing energy companies, ranchers and environmentalists agree about much of anything. So it’s significant those groups praised the announcement a listing of the greater sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act isn’t warranted because of efforts already under way across the West to protect the bird and its habitat.

Concerns remain about how federal land use plans will be implemented and their potential effects on energy development, ranching and other activities. But there’s also a recognition state and local efforts can be more effective at accomplishing objectives than strictly federal efforts. And that’s a potential model for addressing other issues — reduced emissions from power plants and stricter ozone standards are among those that come to mind.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has determined a listing of the greater sage grouse isn’t warranted because land conservation efforts have reduced threats to the bird.

A news release quoted Jewell in praising collaborative efforts that protect both habitat and local economies: “The epic conservation effort will benefit westerners and hundreds of species that call this iconic landscape home while giving states, businesses and communities the certainty they need to plan for sustainable economic development.”

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack also was quoted as praising ranchers and other landowners for their voluntary efforts to conserve habitat. “Together we have shown that voluntary efforts joining the resources of private landowners, federal and state agencies and partner organizations can help drive landscape-level conservation that is good for sage grouse, ranching operations and rural communities. Through the comprehensive initiatives on both public and private lands, the partnership has made and will continue to make monumental strides in supporting the people and wildlife that depend on the sagebrush landscape.”

Thanks in part to the efforts of Gov. John Hickenlooper, Colorado has led the way in this effort.

Energy companies, ranchers and landowners have worked with state agencies to implement voluntary conservation measures. Moreover, a habitat exchange has been created in which landowners who create, maintain and improve habitat on their properties can earn conservation credits that then can be sold to industry to mitigate development, including oil and natural gas facilities, roads and other infrastructure.

Now that a sage grouse listing has been avoided, it’s a matter of moving forward with land use plans and conservation efforts that respect the collaboration that’s occurred and afford transparency and a measure of flexibility.

There’s justifiable concern among energy and ranching groups that federal regulations still could enforce a one-size-fits-all approach or implement what amounts to a defacto listing while discounting those circumstances in which energy development and ranching operations can co-exist with sage grouse conservation.

Energy companies, ranchers and landowners have made a concerted effort to join in conservation efforts to avoid a sage grouse listing. Now it’s up to federal agencies to act as good faith partners in that effort and confirm a collaborative approach works better than a regulatory one.