By Mike Simpson
"During my time in Congress, I have consistently worked to preserve responsible access to public land. As Chairman of the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, I worked to ensure that western interests were protected in the FY14 Interior appropriations bill. Among a number of important provisions in the bill is language delaying the decision whether to list the sage-grouse as an endangered species for one year.
"According to a court settlement, the Fish and Wildlife Service must make this decision by the end of FY2015. In preparation, the BLM is currently under a court-imposed deadline to amend 68 resource management plans across the West to ensure that sage-grouse is protected under them. This decision is of paramount importance to Idaho, so agencies need adequate time to complete this work.
"It's important to note that this listing deadline was imposed by a judge, not based on science. Unfortunately, since the court set this arbitrary deadline, agency budgets have continued to decline, and BLM is stretched thin in its efforts to amend these plans. I continue to hear from many of the stakeholders involved who are concerned that the listing deadline has resulted in less collaboration and rushed decisions. By delaying the listing decision for one year, we can provide the BLM with time to do the job right.
"My bill takes a number of additional steps regarding sage-grouse conservation efforts, including providing BLM with requested funding for sage-grouse conservation and recognizing that states play a critical role in this effort. The bill also directs the FWS and the USGS to make public data used in the listing decision, which has not been made available.
"My bill does a number of other things for the West. It fully funds the Payment in Lieu of Taxes program (PILT), which reimburses local and state governments for the lack of tax base due to the presence of federal lands. It includes a number of provisions intended to address the grazing permit backlog at the BLM and allow the agency to focus its limited time and resources on the most environmentally sensitive areas. And it prevents the Forest Service from implementing new wilderness directives that could limit Idahoans' access to public lands.
"In Idaho, our way of life has long depended on access to public lands. My Interior Appropriations bill recognizes this, and I hope that the House will act on this bill soon."