I have difficulty articulating my frustrations with government driven environmental impacts on farming and ranching without raving. So instead I give you the following article from Montana about a new species war in the West. Note, the one thing that they can track is the number of Animal Unit Months (AUM) on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) acres had declined from 1953 to 2000 by 8 million units. Yet our population that depends on beef as a food source continues to increase. I ask you which species is endangered? The Grouse or the Rancher?
September 4, 2013
Montana Farm Bureau Member Speaks Out at Sage Grouse Hearing
Matt Knox, a Fergus County Farm Bureau member representing the Montana Farm Bureau provided comments during the House Natural Resources Committee Field Hearing on sage grouse conservation in Billings Sept. 4. The hearing, titled, “State and Local Efforts to Protect Species, Jobs, Property, and Multiple Use Amidst a New War on the West” drew interest from many entities affected by national legislation using the Endangered Species Act.
In his comments, Knox said Montana already has a viable and stable sage grouse population. “Bird numbers tend to vary due to weather patterns, predation, disease, wildfire and sage brush conversion. These are very real threats to the survival of sage grouse and should not be confused with misdirected conservation measures,” said Knox. “Among these misdirected measures are several that are listed in the BLM’s national strategy to protect sage grouse. They were developed by the National Technical Team (NTT) whose main interest is to restrict or eliminate land uses that in fact pose little or no threat to grouse.”
Knox said some of the measures are predicated on the assumption that livestock grazing is associated with sage grouse population loss. “This ignores the parallel decline over the past half century of both livestock numbers and sage grouse on public lands. In 1953, there was approximately 18 million animal unit months (AUM) s on BLM land in the west. By 2000 that number was around 10 million AUMs. If grazing were the problem, sage grouse should now be flourishing. Retiring grazing as suggested by the BLM is based on political antagonism far more than real biology”.
Knox pointed out that predation continues to be ignored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a factor in sage grouse decline. “In the early 1900s sage grouse numbers began to grow as ranchers and farmers controlled coyotes, skunks, crows and ravens. The trend continued into the 1960s when efforts to control predators were curtailed through government regulation,” explained Knox “An example is a very aggressive nest predator, the raven whose population in the west has grown by over 1000 percent since 1900. Predators are a factor and any effort to conserve the species needs to address the issue.”
At the request of the livestock and oil and gas industry, Governor Bullock appointed a sage grouse advisory committee to develop a management plan for sage grouse in Montana. The plan must pass muster with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service thus keeping the bird from being listed. As mentioned above there is abundant data proving that grazing and sage grouse are compatible uses. That applies not only to grazing, but to water development, irrigation and other developments within reasonable distances from active leks. Knox expressed frustration that word in D.C. is the sage grouse will be listed under the Endangered Species Act no matter what successful efforts have been made by states and local groups.
Since ESA’s passage more than 13,000 species of plants and animals have been listed. Depending on whose numbers you use, anywhere between seven- 20 species have been removed from the list. Of those removed, most had little or nothing to do with the act but dealt with species already extinct or recovered by some other means.”
“Montana farmers and ranchers are extremely frustrated with the Endangered Species Act which is like a treadmill to landowners, farmers and ranchers,” Knox stated. “We spend an inordinate amount of time and effort in order to keep species from being listed, only to have them listed anyway. Once listed, delisting goals are moving targets. When delisting targets are reached delisting is further delayed by court cases.”
“In the ESA game, habitat control takes precedence over species conservation. Conservation of one species leads to degradation of another. The sage grouse is on center stage at this time, before that it was the wolf, cutthroat trout and grizzly bears to name a few. When we start playing God to one species there is no place to stop until the federal government controls the entire west,” Knox concluded.