Republicans Gear Up For The Great Grouse War Of 2014

In this photo provided by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department a male lesser prairie chicken seeks a mate in Yoakum County southwest of Lubbock, Wednesday, April 9th, 2014. (AP Photo/Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Earl Nottingham)
In this photo provided by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department a male lesser prairie chicken seeks a mate in Yoakum County southwest of Lubbock, Wednesday, April 9th, 2014. (AP Photo/Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Earl Nottingham)

WASHINGTON -- Congressional Republicans are working to block federal protection of several species of grouse, arguing that listing the birds as endangered will hurt energy development and agriculture in Western states.

Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and four other House Republicans, along with Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso of Wyoming, on Thursday introduced the Sage Grouse Protection and Conservation Act, which would prevent the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from listing the greater sage grouse and Gunnison sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act for 10 years. The Fish and Wildlife Service proposed the Gunnison sage grouse as endangered in January 2013, but hasn't finalized the decision. The agency is also considering whether to add the greater sage grouse, which lives in 11 Western states, to the endangered species list. A decision on that is expected next year.

The Republicans sponsoring the legislation said they're concerned that new grouse protections may impede economic development.

"The last thing states need are more one-size-fits-all regulations from Washington that won’t help species and will devastate local economies,” Barrasso said in a press release. “By forcing Washington to stay out of the way, this bill puts Americans who live in these communities and know what works best in charge of managing the land and wildlife. It also gives states the tools they need to develop a sound conservation plan and ultimately prevent the sage grouse from being listed -- a win-win for wildlife and our economy.”

Environmental groups said federal protections for the birds are imperative for their survival. The population of the greater sage grouse has "declined roughly 90 percent from its historic numbers," less than a century ago, said Mark Salvo, the director of federal lands conservation at Defenders of Wildlife. The birds "are experiencing death by a thousand cuts," Salvo said, because they are "highly sensitive to landscape disturbances, human activities like oil and gas drilling or livestock grazing, construction of energy facilities and mining."

Salvo said he hoped a federal and state conservation plan already underway will help to preserve sage grouse and their habitats. But legislation "prioritizing the state strategies over other federal alternatives" could make things worse, he said. He said the Gunnison sage grouse's total population is fewer than 5,000, making it "arguably the most imperiled of all the grouse species that are under consideration for protection under the Endangered Species Act."

Meanwhile, Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) is leading an effort to block Fish and Wildlife's decision to list another type of grouse, the lesser prairie chicken, as "threatened." Fish and Wildlife in May listed the lesser prairie chicken as threatened, after its population fell by nearly half in one year to roughly 17,000. The bird's range covers primarily private land in the southern Great Plains.

Huelskamp told HuffPost this week that he has submitted an amendment to the Interior and Environment appropriations bill that would bar the agency from using any funds in support of the listing. He said he may offer another amendment to “defund Fish and Wildlife Service,” though he didn't make clear whether that would be a whole or partial cut. He said he is also working on separate legislation that would delay enforcement of the lesser prairie chicken listing for at least a year, which he said would provide time to demonstrate the effectiveness of a voluntary, five-state conservation plan.

Farmers, ranchers, oil and gas developers and rural electrical cooperatives all fear the lesser prairie chicken's listing will hurt their business, said Huelskamp. Renewable energy development also may be affected, he said. "It was the number one issue on the mind of folks in western Kansas for many months now. We're already hearing real-life examples of economic activity not taking place," he said.

Ya-Wei Li, director of endangered species conservation at Defenders of Wildlife, said the concern about enforcement is overblown. "Oftentimes, we hear this fear that Fish and Wildlife is going to drive around and start issuing citations to ranchers for violating the Endangered Species Act, and the reality is that just doesn't happen," he said.

Defenders of Wildlife and WildEarth Guardians have argued the lesser prairie chicken's listing as “threatened” is far too lenient, and that bird should be considered “endangered.” An endangered listing comes with more stringent rules governing the protection of the animals and their habitat.

"Its decline has been catastrophic, its populations are on the verge of extinction,” said Erik Molvar, a wildlife biologist with WildEarth Guardians based in Laramie, Wyoming. “Endangered species status is what is legally required when a species gets this scarce.”

Huelskamp said he believes the lesser prairie chicken population is struggling primarily due to drought, not development. "As long as it doesn't rain, we're not going to have any more birds," he told HuffPost.

Molvar and Li acknowledged that drought has had some impact, but they said droughts occur frequently in the high plains.

"Drought or no drought, the extinction risk is very high for the lesser prairie chicken right now," said Li. He said that the legislative efforts to block protections for the bird are “really part of a larger legislative effort to gut the Endangered Species Act."

There have also been state efforts to block federal protections for the grouses. Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) signed a bill two weeks ago that claims state sovereignty over non-migratory wildlife, including both the lesser and greater prairie chicken. That bill gives the state attorney general the power to block any federal protections for the birds.The state has also joined a federal lawsuit that Oklahoma filed against Fish and Wildlife seeking to block protection of the lesser prairie chicken.

Huelskamp said there can be no peaceful coexistence between development and protections for the birds.

"There's no living together," said Huelskamp. "If you're going to shut down an oil well, it's picking ... You're picking the lesser prairie chicken over oil wells. Or else, why would they be out issuing those regulations?"

Oregon Chub
Endemic to the Willamette River Valley of western Oregon, this small minnow was listed as endangered in 1993 after its habitat declined from alteration, accidental chemical spills and other factors, according to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Office. The USFWS reclassified the Oregon chub as threatened in 2010, and announced in early February 2014 that they proposed to delist the Oregon chub, according to The Wall Street Journal.

When it was originally listed as endangered, only eight known populations existed; currently, there are 50 known populations, and 19 of those are either stable or increasing. The fish will have spent just 21 years on the Endangered Species List, and it is the first fish proposed for removal.

(AP Photo/Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Rick Swart)
American Alligator
American alligators declined so precipitously from habitat loss and hunting for leather since the 19th century that people thought it was going to go extinct. Its commercial and recreational hunting was banned in 1962 across the country, and it became protected under the Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966 that preceded the Endangered Species Act. After intensive monitoring, captive breeding and reintroduction, the southern reptile rebounded. It was reclassified as threatened in 1987 and remains under that protection due to "similarity of appearance" to crocodiles and caimans, which are still hunted, and to allow for a sustainable trade, according to the USFWS.

"The story of the American alligator is one of both drastic decline and complete recovery," writes the USFWS. "A story of State and Federal cooperation, it is truly one of the prominent successes of the Nation’s endangered species program." American alligators are at the top of their food chain, so they are a crucial part of their wetland ecosystems.

(AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
Brown Pelicans
Two distinct populations of brown pelicans exist: The California brown pelican -- ranging from California to Chile -- and the eastern brown pelican -- ranging into the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, the Caribbean and the Central and South American coasts, according to the USFWS.

Human disturbance, local food shortages and exposure to DDT and other chemicals led to both populations' decline, according to the USFWS. It was classified as endangered in 1970. But, because of habitat protection, the banning of DDT and pesticide restrictions, brown pelicans have rebounded. The USFWS estimates that 650,000 individuals exist worldwide.

In 1985, brown pelicans in the eastern population in Alabama, Florida, Georgia and northward along the Atlantic Coast were removed from the Endangered Species List. The remaining population was delisted in 2009.

(Photo by Jose CABEZAS/AFP/Getty Images)
Bald Eagle
The United States' national emblem drastically declined in the 19th century and early 20th century from shooting, habitat loss and the use of DDT, according to the USFWS. By 1940, Congress passed the Bald Eagle Protection Act, which prohibited killing, selling or possessing the species, and added the golden eagle to the Act in 1962, making it the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

In 1967, bald eagles south of the 40th parallel became protected under the Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966. After the Endangered Species Act was enacted in 1973, the USFWS listed bald eagles as endangered in 1978 throughout the lower 48 states, except in Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin where the bird remained threatened. After years of captive breeding, reintroduction, law enforcement and nest site protection, the USFWS proposed removing the bald eagle from the list of threatened and endangered species in 1999. It was finally removed in 2007, and it is still protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Gray Whale
Commercial whaling heavily depleted both of the gray whale stocks -- the Eastern North Pacific population and the Western North Pacific population -- from the mid 19th century to early 20th century. In the mid 1930s, these monstrous cetaceans -- stretching up to 50 feet and weighing up to 40 tons -- became protected under the first international commercial whaling ban, and then later came under the protection of the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, according to NOAA.

The Eastern North Pacific population was delisted from the Endangered Species Act in 1994, and is estimated to have 18,000 to 30,000 individuals, according to NOAA. On the other hand, the Western North Pacific stock remains gravely endangered and considered "depleted" under the MMPA. The population is estimated to be fewer than 100 individuals.

A North Atlantic gray whale population once existed, but went extinct in the last 300 to 400 years. It's assumed that whaling and habitat degradation caused this species' extinction, though little is known about them, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

(Photo by Sam Beebe/Flickr Creative Commons)
Gray Wolf
Gray wolves have made an incredible comeback since they were listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 1974 in the Lower 48 and Mexico (except for Minnesota, where they were listed as threatened), according to the USFWS. Wolf hunting, eradication and poisoning led to their precipitous decline -- to the point where only a few hundred remained when they were listed as endangered under the ESA.

Some distinct population segments are currently delisted due to recovery. In 2013, the Service proposed delisting remaining gray wolves, but continuing protection for the Mexican wolf -- the smallest and most southern-occuring subspecies of the gray wolf.

In early February 2014, however, an independent review panel said the federal government was relying on "unsettled" and "insufficient science" to make its case to remove the gray wolf from the Endangered Species List, writes AP. Another public comment period will open in February.

(AP Photo/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Gary Kramer, File)
Peregrine Falcons
After decades of decline from DDT build-up and egg and chick retrieval, American and Arctic peregrine falcons declined sharply, according to the USFWS Chesapeake Bay Office. They were listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Conservation Act of 1969, and recovery teams composed of Federal, state and independent biologists worked to restore their populations.

In 1984, the Service reclassified the Arctic peregrine falcon to threatened and was proposed for removal from the Endangered Species List ten years later. In 1999, the USFWS removed the American peregrine falcon from the Endangered Species List.

The other subspecies, the Peale’s peregrine falcon, was never listed because they continued to breed at normal levels and only showed traces of DDT, according to the USFWS.

(AP Photo/Richard Drew)
West Virginia Northern Flying Squirrel
This subspecies, also known as the Virginia northern flying squirrel, was listed as endangered in 1985. Populations steeply declined after their habitat, old-growth spruce forests, were decimated from industrial logging between the 1880s and 1940s, according to the Service.

The USFWS published a rule to remove this small nocturnal animal from the Endangered Species List in 2008, but because of a series of lawsuits and court orders, the squirrel remained protected. The USFWS submitted a final ruling to delist this flying squirrel in March of 2013.

These flying squirrels live atop the central Appalachian Mountains in West Virginia and Virginia. At the time of their original listing nearly three decades ago, only 10 squirrels were captured throughout its range; today, more than 1,100 squirrels have been captured.

(Photo by Master Larry, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/WikiMedia Commons)
Maguire Daisy
Because of declines due to mineral exploration, development and off-road vehicle recreation, the plant was listed as endangered in 1985. It was reclassified in 1996, and delisted in 2011, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior.

The Maguire daisy is a perennial herb that's a member of the sunflower family, according to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. It occurs in several Utah counties on crevices, ledges and in bottoms of washes at 5,200 to 8,600 feet in elevation.

(Photo by USFWS Mountain-Prairie/Flickr Creative Commons)

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