Defense bill threatens sage grouse survival

A sneaky amendment would block protection under the Endangered Species Act.

 

Late summer has come to the American West, and across the sagebrush sea that extends over multiple states from Wyoming to New Mexico, greater sage grouse have moved on from their spring courtship rituals and are now raising their young.

These unique American birds face an uncertain future, even as they begin tending to the next generation. That’s because the National Defense Authorization Act is advancing in the House and Senate, and an amendment to that bill threatens the birds’ survival. A rider tacked on to the House bill not only overturns a public planning process that involved multiple stakeholders, it also blocks protection for sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act for at least a decade. It’s a repeat of similar legislation that the House Natural Resources Chairman, Utah Republican Rob Bishop, tried to sneak into the defense bill last year.

A sagegrouse in Oregon.
Oregon U.S. Fish and Wildlife

I’ve served my country in both Kosovo and Iraq, and I understand that the defense bill has serious implications for military preparedness and national security. The national defense bill authorizes spending and programs for our troops, covering everything from food to fuel and ammunition. So what do sage grouse have to do with national defense? Quite simply, nothing.

The Department of Defense didn’t ask for this amendment; a few Western lawmakers did. These elected officials seek to run their own agenda by inserting amendments onto the defense authorization bill and insulting the men and women serving our country. Why are we again wasting everyone’s time with debates that don’t belong in the defense bill?

Already a great deal of time has gone into creating conservation solutions for the sage grouse. Partnerships have been created among ranchers, energy developers and federal, state and local governments across 11 states to save sagebrush habitat in the West. Additionally, the U.S. military has a strong track record of working with federal agencies and local communities to protect open space and wildlife habitat.

These anti-wildlife lawmakers are saying there’s a problem on sagebrush lands where none exists. We already have done the hard work to put in place a framework that conserves this iconic species and the landscapes of the West without hindering military training exercises. Thriving sage grouse populations indicate the overall health of their sagebrush habitat, which harbors 350 other species.

We’ve seen this shameful strategy of adding anti-environment riders to must-pass legislation time and time again in appropriations funding bills, and this year is no different: The 2017 Interior appropriations bill is chock-full of riders from lawmakers with an agenda that block or strip away endangered species protections for native wildlife. It’s embarrassing to the citizens these lawmakers represent that this trend has now spread to the military, especially when the military itself clearly states that sage grouse conservation efforts have no impact on military readiness.

That’s right: The Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Readiness stated in an April letter that they “do not believe these (sage-grouse management) plans will affect military training, operations, or readiness to any significant degree.” The Army, the Navy and the Air Force all have resources management plans for military installations, and none of them need any new greater sage grouse legislation in order to carry out their missions. It doesn’t get much clearer than that. 

I’m proud to call the Rocky Mountains my home, and the sage grouse is a true icon of the West I love. The sagebrush sea needs to be protected for future generations. If it isn’t, the sage grouse, and along with the many other species that depend on this unique landscape, could vanish forever.

Let’s get back to the business of protecting our country from real threats. To the few politicians and special interests pushing these damaging provisions, I say: Leave our natural heritage and our defense bill alone. Our wide-open spaces and wildlife are a big part of what we love and cherish about the United States. They are one of the reasons why so many brave men and women are glad to serve their country.

Garett Reppenhagen is a contributor to Writers on the Range, the opinion service of NewTowncarShare News. He served as a Cavalry Scout Sniper with the 1st Infantry Division in the U.S. Army and is now regional director for Vet Voice Foundation, based in Colorado.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of NewTowncarShare News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].

NewTowncarShare News Classifieds
  • 1400 sf of habitable space in a custom-designed eco-home created and completed by a published L.A. architect in 1997-99. Nestled within its own 80-acre mountain...
  • We are hiring a Wyoming Conservation Associate Full time, competitive pay and benefits. Location: Cody, WY (preferred), Jackson, WY, or Lander, WY Visit www.greateryellowstone.org/careers for...
  • The National Parks Conservation Association, the nations leading national park advocacy organization, seeks a Regional Director to lead and manage staff for the Southwest Regional...
  • This newly created position with The Nature Conservancy's Colorado River Program will play a key role in the development and implementation of strategies to achieve...
  • The Foundation NoVo Foundation acts from the original meaning of philanthropy: the love of humanity. The Foundation is dedicated to catalyzing a global social transformation...
  • A new generation of monkey wrenchers hits the Front Range?
  • The Tanner Humanities Center and the Environmental Humanities Program of the University of Utah seek an environmental writer to offer classes in Utahs Environmental Humanities...
  • The Wilderness Society works to protect Wildlands and inspire Americans to care for our public lands. We seek to hire a strategic, experienced leader who...
  • The Idaho Conservation League (ICL) seeks an individual to lead this 45-year-old organization as executive director, to carry on ICLs work as Idahos leading voice...
  • 2+ acres, 400+ feet on Snake River, 2800 sf residence, NWF-certified wildlife habitat, excellent hunting, fishing, birdwatching, stargazing, sunsets & panoramic views. In the heart...
  • Guardians is expanding and looking for a few great people to join us in protecting and restoring the wildlife, wild places, wild rivers, and health...
  • Organic grocery/cafe at Glacier Bay needs a vibrant leader. Love good food, community, and Alaska? Join us!
  • Ouray County, Colorado, a popular tourist destination, has dramatic mountains and amazing winter ice climbing. Challenging terrain and high altitude can push visitors to their...
  • National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Associate-Tahoe Area. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Coordinator-Tahoe Area. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Manager-Tahoe Area. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Associate-Southern CA. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • Collector's Item! The story of barley, the field crop. 50 years of non-fiction research. www.barleybook.com
  • Colorado Canyons Association (CCA) is a growing nonprofit organization fostering community stewardship of our National Conservation Lands with a focus on Dominguez-Escalante, Gunnison Gorge and...
  • Colorado Canyons Association (CCA) is a growing nonprofit organization fostering community stewardship of our National Conservation Lands with a focus on Dominguez-Escalante, Gunnison Gorge and...