House Speaker Scott Bedke held a meeting in Salt Lake City on Saturday hoping to unite western states in staving off listing of the sage grouse as an endangered species. Such a listing, now under consideration by Idaho U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill, would likely remove tens of thousands of cattle from the publicly-owned range.
Bedke hopes the effort will result in a “Sage Grouse Summit” in Boise in late May, hosted by Gov. Butch Otter, who is working on a state sage grouse plan aimed at winning the approval of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Wyoming’s plan has already been approved and Idaho is close, Bedke said.
“We have fleshed out that our state plans are compatible,” said Bedke, R-Oakley. “We want to move on this issue in a multi-state format.”
Bedke co-owns a large ranch that runs cattle on federal allotments in southern Idaho and northern Nevada. He organized Saturday’s meeting in recent weeks, which included lawmakers and advisers to governors from Idaho, Utah, Nevada and Wyoming.
The group agreed that Oregon, Montana and Colorado should be included and hopes to gather officials from all seven states for a follow-up meeting in Salt Lake City on April 9, Bedke said. In preparation for that meeting, staff from governors’ offices and fish and game agencies will hold virtual meetings, he said.
Winmill has ordered the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to renew 75 grazing permits this year. As a result, the BLM told Owyhee County ranchers in January to reduce the number of cattle on the range this season. Earlier this month, U.S. Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, urged Interior Secretary nominee Sally Jewell to make the issue a priority.
“The interim management plan they’re using right now is overly restrictive,” Bedke said. “We need to have the BLM adopt the states’ plans as the interim management plan.”
Bedke said it’s difficult to measure the impact in the upcoming grazing season, but said some Owyhee County operations have been ordered to scale back as much as 40 percent.
In the long-term, if the bird is listed as endangered, Bedke said, “All the permitted uses are in jeopardy, whether it’s pipeline systems, power line systems, roads, roads for fire.”
Bedke said the greatest threat to the sage grouse is fire and the subsequent growth of invasive weeds. He argues grazing helps reduce fire danger by reducing fuel.