Today the Bureau of Land Management released their draft plans to federally manage sage grouse populations in Western states, including Montana, despite the fact that many states are crafting state-based solutions to manage local bird populations.
The BLM plan is admittedly more restrictive than the Montana plan, and according to their press release, they've identified more than 8 million acres of land in Montana that will be impacted, including nearly 4 million acres as "priority" zones and more than 900,000 acres of "focal" area. These areas will be subject to stricter regulations and permitting processes for ordinary activities such as natural resource and energy development and infrastructure maintenance (for example, repairing roads).
"Once again the Obama Administration is undermining the authority of sovereign states to manage our own land, resources, and wildlife with one of their signature "Washington knows best' plans," said Ryan Zinke. "In Montana alone, the BLM is flexing its bureaucratic muscle over an area nearly the size of the states of Connecticut and Massachusetts combined in order to conserve populations of a bird that they admit they don't even know what a healthy population would be. I support a state-based plan that gives local stakeholders a seat at the table. From ObamaCare to the EPA's anti-coal rules, to Waters of the U.S., it is clear the people of Montana cannot trust the Administration to act in our state's best interest. The era of Washington knows best has to end now."
In recent years, the governor assembled a team of Montana experts to determine how our state should best manage its sage grouse populations. Representatives from agriculture, wildlife conservation, local governments, and other stakeholders were given a seat at the table and they crafted a plan that had a broad base of support.
Earlier this month in a House Natural Resources Committee hearing, Zinke pressed former BLM Director Kelly Clark on Washington's involvement in sage grouse.
RZ: "Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I guess the collaborative process is an enormous effort, it takes experts and us sitting together at a table, and when the federal government or a higher authority intervenes and says they know best, it concerns me. It concerns me in Montana that I've talked to the Director of the BLM--nowhere do I see what a healthy population number is in Montana. And we're talking about Montana where the CMR is larger than most states. So when I don't know what a target number is, when the plan doesn't have anything constructive other than habitat, when it doesn't address wildfire, it doesn't address predators, and yet locally, the farmers, the ranchers, the people that live on the land have expressed a considerable desire to save the species in a constructive manner that looks at predators, looks at wildfire, looks at weather. And so I guess my question to Kathleen, Ms. Clark, is that you've been around this process--other than perhaps a taxidermy or the Smithsonian Institute, is there an example of the Sage Grouse within the DC area? Living?"
KC: "I'm not aware there are any Sage Grouse in the DC area."
RZ: "Then why then would Washington, the bureaucracy, given there's no Sage Grouse here, why would, in your view, why would they decide what is best for Montana, the Western states, that have a deep traditional concern for wildlife management, why would the bureaucracy here think that they have a better management plan than the Western states?"
KC: "I think it's the culture in Washington "