This past weekend, the New York Times ran a story about the increasingly politicized battle over the Greater sage-grouse, the Endangered Species Act and energy development in the West. Diane Cardwell and Clifford Krauss report that the bird has set off a “mad scramble among the unlikeliest of allies to save the bird and avoid disrupting the nation’s enormous growth in energy production.” Unfortunately, the story reveals some environmental groups are more interested in scoring political points than finding compromise. But if you look beyond the squeaky wheels, there’s consensus building rapidly among the majority of Westerners seeking a smarter path forward.
In just the past month, a number of influential groups have proactively worked to show that by sitting down at the table and doing the hard work that comes with collaboration, we can preserve iconic wildlife and our western way of life without sacrificing our energy economy. It’s how most folks in the West like to operate. We work together, and try to find solutions that while not perfect, we can live with – because they strike the right balance between conservation and energy development.
That’s a position seemingly lost on the environmental groups quoted in the Times story. Claiming to have the birds’ best interests at heart, they have instead chosen to reject compromise and refuse to work with others to find solutions. That’s not just bad news for governors like Matt Mead of Wyoming, but bad for the bird as well because it suggests these entrenched groups aren’t serious about finding solutions to one of the most important conservation issues facing the west.
Fortunately for Westerners, a number of stakeholders are getting serious. Conservation and sportsmen groups, farmers and ranchers, local elected officials, and many others, are actively working to conserve the bird and the sage brush habitat not only important to sage-grouse, but to prized big game species like elk, deer and antelope.
For example, at the Western Governors’ Association meeting in June, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union purchased a full-page ad in the Colorado Springs Gazette urging stakeholder cooperation to prevent a listing. And in early June, the sportsmen group Backcountry Hunters & Anglers released a report urging sage-grouse conservation for hunters, saying “conserving the greater sage-grouse is crucial for Western states’ wildlife-based recreation and economies, and will also provide much-needed certainty and stability to the oil and gas industry.”
Brian Rutledge of the National Audubon Society—one of the groups that has been working for years to find common-ground on grouse conservation with federal and state officials, the energy industry and other stakeholders— said it best. Quoted in Greenwire last week Rutledge said, “In Wyoming, we have coal, we have gas, we have wind, we have a whole array of human activities on that landscape. The beauty of what we are doing is we are managing all of those, and that had not been done before.” He added, “I defy the people who say this is not enough to find anyone who has done more.”
At WVP, we’re proud to be among the conservationists, sportsmen, ranchers and farmers that are sitting down and trying to reach real-world solutions that work for Westerners—instead of using heated rhetoric to sow further conflict.