I watched with growing frustration during the Obama administration as environmentalists used sage grouse as a tool to shut down livestock grazing, energy development and other multiple uses of our federal lands.
But I have some good news from the Trump administration, which is using its administrative authority to help Idaho by restoring common-sense management to protect the bird, the landscape and support local economies.
Last week, I participated in a House Natural Resources Committee hearing exploring how western states are better suited to lead the way on sage grouse recovery. Among those testifying was Idaho House Speaker Scott Bedke, who explained the devastating effects of overreaching federal management.
It’s important to remember that environmental extremists have seen sage grouse as a means to achieve their goal of ending 150 years of grazing and energy development on public lands. They’ve been trying to get sage grouse listed as an endangered species for 20 years.
In 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said there was no scientific evidence that the bird was endangered. That decision was grounded on effective state-based management plans, which Interior Secretary Ken Salazar asked states to develop in 2011. In Idaho, a broad base of stakeholders wrote a scientifically sound plan fitting the facts on the ground. Other states did the same.
Unfortunately, Salazar’s successor, Sally Jewell, changed the rules at the end of the game. Though an endangered species listing was unwarranted, the government issued 98 amendments in 2015 undermining the states’ plans.
New restrictions included 5-mile buffer zones around every breeding site that required ranchers to let grass grow high enough to hide sage grouse from crows and ravens. Never mind that the government hasn’t bothered to manage and remove those predators for decades. I’ve supported legislation to fight this land grab, including H.R. 527, the Greater Sage Grouse Protection and Recovery Act this Congress.
Thankfully, the American people chose Donald Trump as President, and his Department of Interior ordered a review of the amendments. A public hearing process is underway, and I hope the result will be restoring the state-based plans.
At last week’s hearing, Speaker Bedke joined witnesses from other western states to discuss their balanced recovery plans reflecting local conditions. Bedke cited an example from his own experience that was of particular interest to the committee.
Last year, a 500-acre fire on Bedke’s ranch near the Idaho-Nevada border had been contained. But the next day, it flared up again. Firefighters arrived with heavy equipment, including a Caterpillar tractor. But because there was no “Cat-tender” on hand – a person trained to walk in front of the tractor to spot possible archeological artifacts – the equipment was idled. The result? The fire grew to 20,000 acres.
The terrible irony of all this is that wildfire is the No. 1 threat to sage grouse. This appalling absence of common sense is emblematic of a pattern of failed federal land management that has left our forests to burn, unnecessarily hampered agriculture and stifled economic innovation.
I’m optimistic state authority will be restored as another step to reduce needless red tape. I will continue to work with President Trump to champion the principle that the best decisions are made by those closest to the ground. The result will be a healthier landscape, stronger communities and a growing economy.
To watch my exchange with Bedke, please click here.