Change in sage grouse numbers is due to federal mismanagement

By Todd Devlin

  It is time Prairie County citizens know what is going on at the national level with local governments and the National Association of Counties position on the Greater Sage Grouse. As a member of the National Association of Counties Public Lands Steering Committee, I introduced two resolutions this July at the National Association of Counties Annual Conference in Pittsburgh concerning the Greater Sage Grouse.  

One resolution was opposing the use of past "man-made" numbers as accurate data to justify the listing of the Greater Sage Grouse for protection under the Endangered Species Act.  
The other resolution supported a reduction in the percent for administrative charges allowed for the United States Federal Fish and Wildlife Service from 3 percent to .5 percent (one half of 1 percent) for and from the Pittman - Robertson Act (state wildlife restoration) and Dingell - Johnson (fish habitat).  
Both resolutions passed unanimously in committee, the board of directors, and the general assembly.  However, it took a significant effort to educate commissioners with extreme environmental and preservation mentalities in order to get the broad support received.
A brief history of the federal predator control may help readers put this issue into better perspective.
The Greater Sage Grouse issues that the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS)  has addressed are mostly due to past and present  action or lack thereof by FWS, depending on the era. 
Greater Sage Grouse numbers of the 1960s and 1970s (350 percent as compared to the year 2003 numbers – J.W. Connelly: Conservation assessment of Greater - Sage Grouse and Sagebrush Habitat) were in fact due to predator control measures implemented by the FWS under a division called  Predator and Rodent Control (PARC).  
The Department of Interior (DOI) had this authority under the Animal Damage Control Act of 1931 and it was administered through the division of DOI / FWS called PARC. 
It was the FWS that was the sole user of poison 1080 for predator control until its ban in 1972. PARC was then transferred to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 1985 and given a new name of “Animal Damage Control” division. In 1997, the name was again changed to “Wildlife Services” and continues to be a division of the USDA.  
The FWS was and is largely responsible for the numbers of Sage Grouse at present and past due to protection of predators under the Endangered Species Act, little predator control and lack of tools available due to their abuse of those same tools depending on the era.  Meaning: FWS used those tools so aggressively (specifically the poison 1080) that they were banned and/or  species were protected. To make the case on just how aggressively PARC used 1080, records show that they harvested an average of more than 87,000 coyotes per year in the 1960s while using 1080.  
All current studies done by the Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks are stating that the number one issue  impacting Sage Grouse  numbers as compared to the 1960s and 1970s are predators. It shows that 75 percent of the losses to mature hens was due to predators of both avian and mammal species.  From 2009 to 2011 over 50 percent of the total productive females were lost to predators and of that 75 percent was directly due to predators. 
With this in mind, one has to come to the conclusion that no management plans for Sage Grouse will be successful in increasing numbers without man induced predator control. This is all assuming that the FWS thinks that current numbers are low. 
What I find interesting is that because  the Endangered Species Act (ESA), that is managed and implemented by the FWS, some species (example: Golden Eagle) that contribute major losses to Sage Grouse are in fact  protected by the same act (ESA) that the FWS is considering  to list the Sage Grouse on.  And now, FWS is trying to accuse Public Land Management Agencies and private landowners of mismanagement of Sage Grouse habitat, when in fact it was all due to  their own agency’s control or lack of control of predators and the protection of certain species that are responsible for the decline which now has stabilized  as compared to  past larger  populations of Sage Grouse.
Additionally,  FWS is also in total control of the Pittman - Robertson monies allocated  to  state wildlife agencies.  Pittman – Robertson dollars are 75 percent of all project costs for state wildlife agencies. It is funded by a federal tax of 11 percent on all ammunition and firearms  that last year disbursed over $380 million to state wildlife agencies. ($384,066,966 in fiscal year 2011).  
The law is very specific in stating that the state wildlife agency’s project(s) must meet the standards of the Secretary of the United State Department of Interior (DOI) if those dollars are to be released and used by the state wildlife agencies. FWS is a division of DOI and they administer the Pittman – Robertson Fund.  
Montana FWP was continually stating that there was not an issue with the Greater Sage Grouse, but now you see them working aggressively on a Sage Grouse management plan to keep them from being listed on the ESA. What changed their tune?  Maybe part of it was the approximately ten million dollars ($10,000,000) each year in Pittman – Robertson dollars that comes to Montana FWP via FWS that must meet the standards of the Secretary of Interior before it is released.  
Is FWS forcing state wildlife agencies to use these resources now and in the future to manage FWS past mistakes and myths? 
In conclusion, the Sage Grouse issue at hand is not due to poor management of the Federal Land Management Agencies.  It is not due to poor management by the State Wildlife Agencies. It is not due to over grazing or improper grazing.  It is not due to loss of habitat. The Greater Sage Grouse issue rests solely on the shoulders of the United State Federal Fish and Wildlife Service because of their poor management and poor decisions of the past and present. 
It should not be concluded that the Sage Grouse numbers are bad or good at any time in the past or present, but rather that the FWS actions were mostly responsible for the change in numbers.  
The Greater Sage Grouse issue could dramatically affect both public and private land  use in Prairie County.  As a commission representing and protecting Prairie County's constituents, we must make an effort to challenge this issue head on.  
Looking at  FWS 12 month findings (listed below), one logical question comes to mind:  Why are they even being considered for listing?
Note:   Source:  United States  Fish and Wildlife Service:   The minimum effective population for greater sage-grouse to guard against the risk of extinction was determined by the FWS to be 5,000 birds (12-Month Findings, pgs. 13959 and 13985). The current estimated population is between 350,000 and 535,000 birds (12-Month Findings, pg. 13921)

Published July 25, 2012

Article Type: 
Guest Opinion


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