Landowners counter sue in fight over sage grouse

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Mar 12, 2007
by WLJ

Three prominent organizations filed to intervene in litigation, brought primarily by environmental groups, to list the Gunnison sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Colorado Cattlemen’s Association (CCA), Partnership for the West (Partnership), and the Western Conservation Coalition (WCC) will represent the interests of agriculture, landowners, and industry in the suit in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.

Colorado producers, landowners, and business owners have been struggling with lawsuits such as this one, filed by special interest groups, to list species under the ESA. The Gunnison sage grouse inhabits primarily southwestern Colorado, northern Arizona and New Mexico, as well as eastern Utah, and was added as an endangered species candidate in 2000. “Since then, we have been diligently working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW), and other key parties to find alternative solutions to the potential endangered species listing. Producers, land owners, and businesses have stepped up to the plate to volunteer in the process. The agreements allow ranchers and landowners to continue to use their land, while providing benefits for the grouse,” said CCA President Mark Roeber.

According to DOW, Gunnison sage grouse numbers are on the increase. “The collaboration has worked at the local level; the bird’s population has improved, and it will continue, as our conservation efforts continue,” said Roeber. Many of CCA’s members have placed their own lands under conservation easements and entered into conservation agreements with DOW to benefit Gunnison sage grouse. “Landowners faced with civil and criminal penalties under the Endangered Species Act will find it more difficult to enter into these agreements that currently benefit all parties, wildlife, public, agriculture, etc.,” said Roeber.

The ESA was signed into law in 1973 and was designed to bring endangered species back from the brink of extinction. Over the past 32 years, according to USFWS, only 10 of over 1,300 species on the ESA’s list have recovered.

“Study after study shows the ESA simply doesn’t work,” said Paul Poister, executive director of the Partnership. “Less than 1 percent of all listed species have ever been recovered, and the regulatory straight-jacket of the ESA simply gets in the way of good conservation work,” Poister added. The Partnership is a nonprofit alliance of more than 600 companies, associations, coalitions and individuals who support a common-sense balance between economic growth and environmental conservation.

“The grouse was petitioned for listing before it was even recognized as a species,” said Joe Puchek of WCC, a nonprofit coalition of landowners, realtors, agricultural producers, contractors, and businesses. The coalition supports local and state conservation efforts, high scientific standards, private property rights, agriculture, and a strong economy. The WCC commissioned a review of the Gunnison sage grouse that questions its status as a species separate from other sage grouse.

The groups are represented by Kent Holsinger, of Holsinger Law, LLC, based in Golden, CO. “The people most impacted by a listing should have a voice in this process,” said Holsinger.