On April 27, 2015, the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, released the text (pdf) of the National Defense Authorization Act (Act), including language that would ban the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) from issuing its listing decision for the greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) through September 30, 2025. The Act would also limit the application of federal conservation plans for the species.
As we previously reported, the greater sage-grouse is a candidate species under the ESA. In 2010, the Service determined that protection of the species was “warranted but precluded.” The Service proposed listing the greater sage-grouse as threatened under the ESA in 2013. The Bureau of Land Management, several states, and landowners have been working together to establish state habitat protection plans in an effort to stave off the listing of the species.
The Act’s stated purpose is to foster greater coordination between the states and the federal government regarding management plans for the greater sage-grouse. To that end, the Act would prohibit the Service from amending any federal resource management plan applicable to federal lands in a state that has notified the Service that it has a management plan in place. It would also require the Service to submit an annual report to the House Natural Resources Committee regarding the effectiveness of systems monitoring the status of the sage-grouse on federal lands under its jurisdiction through 2021.
In addition to providing states flexibility in imposing their own plans, the language’s sponsor, Representative Rob Bishop (R-Utah), contends that listing the species would subordinate the needs of the United States military “to an extreme environmental agenda.” He has claimed that restrictions imposed due to sage-grouse protections “are currently costing the Department of Defense millions of dollars and impacting critical training and support activities at numerous installations across the country.”
Environmental groups contend that the Act would undermine current efforts to protect the greater sage-grouse on nearly 60 million acres of public lands. They also challenge the contention that a listing determination would have an adverse effect on the military. A letter signed by multiple environmental groups states, “The Department of Defense did not request this provision, nor will it benefit from it.” The letter also claims that the language “inappropriately rescinds federal authority on public lands, could wipe out populations of greater sage-grouse across much of the West, and could further jeopardize the existence of the species.”