In the coming weeks, Congress could be forced to make a dangerous choice on whether or not to pit national defense against the conservation of iconic western lands and wildlife. For the fourth year in a row, Rep. Rob Bishop has introduced either a dangerous amendment or poison pill that attacks the sage grouse, undermines conservation, and unnecessarily threatens America’s national defense.
Bishop’s amendment, which would prohibit the Fish and Wildlife Service from listing the greater sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act for ten years, has been included as a rider in the House version of the must-pass National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The rider would also eliminate incentives to states to implement the federal and state sage-grouse conservation plans, thereby undermining the 2015 sage grouse management plan, a collaborative effort across the 11 Western states with the bird’s habitat that was reached after years of collaboration and compromise between multiple stakeholders and that marked the greatest land conservation effort in US history.
“Sage-grouse conservation and habitat management has nothing to do with our military operations or America’s national defense,” said Jayson O’Neill, Deputy Director of Western Values Project. “Choosing between our defense and conserving an iconic bird and its habitat that supports 350 other species and wildlife is unnecessary and dangerous. Congressman Bishop has been bought and paid for by special interests, and he is using our defense budget as a pawn in a high stakes game to do industry’s bidding to undermine years of work and the compromise to maintain critical habitat for sage grouse. Congress should stop letting Bishop play games with America’s national defense and reject his rider on the sage grouse immediately.”
The bill is now in the NDAA conference committee, where legislators are working on reconciling House and Senate versions of the bill.
The rider has been rejected by America’s military: last week over 450 last veterans sent a letter to congressional leadership asking them to not let “an ideological crusade hijack” the defense budget and to pass the defense bill without Rep. Bishop’s controversial sage-grouse rider. The letter goes on to argue that there is “no evidence that military operations have been or would ever be compromised by sage grouse conservation efforts.”
This is hardly the only time Washington has tried to interfere with the West’s collaborative sage grouse management. Westerners have recently voiced frustration over the unwanted interference Secretary Zinke’s sage grouse review has caused, and previous Western Values Project analysis exposed oil and gas industry influence on the Department of the Interior officials managing the sage grouse review.