This week, the Western Governors Association will meet in Colorado Springs, Colorado to talk through some pretty big issues facing the West.
Not least among those are declining populations of the Greater sage-grouse, an iconic bird whose habitat covers 11 western states from Colorado to Montana and all the way to the West Coast.
Unfortunately, as is often the case in politics, there’s been far too much chest puffing (like a male sage-grouse courting females) and talks of delay and not enough action. Western governors can change that. With their leadership, we can find common sense solutions to protect the Greater sage-grouse, and all those that depend on that same land.
Farmers and ranchers and western communities have a lot to lose if we don’t stay on track. A listing under the Endangered Species Act isn’t good for anyone. It means the bird is imperiled, and it means the federal government could impose measures that could be a tough row to hoe for our farmers and ranchers.
It’s a daunting task, but we can do this. A lot of hard work has already been put into developing sage-grouse conservation plans by state governments and federal agencies, but more action is needed. There’s still time, but our governors and federal land managers must act soon to finish those plans.
Tough choices and decisions will need to be made, absolutely. But those solutions need not be a winner-take-all approach. For instance, a recent Backcountry Hunters & Anglers report found that Wyoming’s approach has been highly successful in balancing conservation and development and that their approach could be exported to other states. If Wyoming can find a way to bring everyone together and create a plan that both protects the bird and respects those of us who live and work on the land, other states can do it, too.
We can get it done, and now it’s time for other states and the federal government to step up. Finding homegrown solutions now—not several years down the road—keeps the states, and landowners, in the driver’s seat, and gives us the certainty that we need to make our living on the landscape. That’s a good thing. When solutions are built from the bottom-up, they have more buy-in by stakeholders and often better respect their needs.
We’ve also seen great work among farmers and ranchers in Colorado and by a west-wide collaborative such as the Sage Grouse Initiative that show a path forward for agricultural interests.
The current planning efforts underway have the best chance of success to prevent a listing and take a tailored approach for individual states.
Unfortunately, some politicians want to kick the can down the road, and delay the need to finish the state and federal conservation plans for at least decade. That would be a mistake, because the longer we take in finding a solution, the more inevitable an Endangered Species Act listing of the Greater sage-grouse could become, and the more uncertainty there is for farmers and ranchers. We shouldn’t get stuck in unending arguments among government bureaucrats and politicians.
Let’s stop grousing around and find solutions now that protect rural economies over the long run.