Critics: Obama Admin. Tries To Hide Land Grab From Western States

(Bob Wick/BLM/Handout via Reuters)

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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The Obama administration has opted not to list the greater sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), instead using land use plans which basically amount to an underhanded land grab, according to critics.

“The 15 amended federal land use plans the Interior Department is using to substitute for listing the greater sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act perpetuate a top-down, penalty-based approach that ultimately harms sage grouse conservation efforts,” Brian Seasholes, director of the libertarian Reason Foundation’s endangered species project, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

“Do not be fooled,” echoed Utah Republican Rep. Rob Bishop. “The announcement not to list the sage grouse is a cynical ploy. With the stroke of a pen, the Obama Administration’s oppressive land management plan is the same as a listing.”

For years, states have worried the Interior Department would list the greater sage grouse as endangered, a move that would put more restrictions on landowners in 11 western states, harming property owners and small towns. Local officials in Colorado, for example, worried that listing the grouse would harm farmers, miners and oil and gas drillers.

But Interior has opted not to list the grouse due to “an unprecedented effort by dozens of partners across 11 western states,” according to a news release. Obama officials and environmental groups have framed Interior’s decision as resulting from the “success” of current policies.

“The conservation plan announced today marks a massive shift in the way our nation thinks about how to defend and protect wild animals and landscapes,” said Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council and a former Obama administration official.

“For forty years, protections for the sage-grouse have languished. It’s time to give this bird – and its habitat – a chance to thrive,” Suh said. “While the plan should be seen as a floor, not the ceiling for sage-grouse protections, it ushers in a new era of landscape-scale conservation gains in the future.”

Seasholes, however, argues the Interior is relying on 15 amended federal conservation plans which the department is using as a proxy for an ESA listing. He says the grouse is actually being protected by local and state efforts on the ground, adding that the federal land use plans are actually harming the grouse.

“Sage grouse conservation ultimately occurs due to on-the-ground management, not in cities or the offices of federal agencies and groups that support penalty-based sage grouse conservation,” Seasholes said.

“Successful sage grouse conservation depends on cooperation, long-term partnerships and the willing help of private landowners and others, an approach many states have successfully implemented but that the punitive federal land use plans unfortunately counteract.” Seasholes added. “Tangible work on the ground, coupled with incentives and partnerships, conserves the sage grouse, not regulations.”

Interior’s plan will provide habitat protections for grouse over 67 million acres, which include 12 million acres with severe limitations on oil and gas exploration, according to ABC News. Republican lawmakers bashed the plan, saying it was a ruse to distract westerners from the fact the government was tightening controls over their economies.

“Now, successful conservation done at the state level will be in vain,” Bishop said. “The new command and control federal plan will not help the bird, but it will control the West, which is the real goal of the Obama Administration.”

Bishop’s office points to the fact that the potential grouse listing was the result of a 2011 lawsuit brought by environmental groups who wanted to see more land taken off limits from development. Ironically, environmentalists are likely to sue again over the Obama administration’s unwillingness to list the grouse as endangered.

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