sage grouse, endangered sage grouse, sage grouse protection act, clean water act

Is the House GOP declaring war on sportsmen?

That question is raised by some amendments that House members attached to the National Defense Authorization Act it passed last week. One would kill a conservation program for the Greater Western Sage Grouse, supported by sportsmen’s groups as well as most state and federal agencies and many landowners. The second would remove a measure that stops the spread of invasive species in the U.S. by preventing ships from blowing their ballast in our ports.

And, no, this isn’t a “partisan” attack. The votes were on a party-line basis, with the GOP voting against sportsmen’s interests and the Dems voting for them. To report that “the House” or “Congress” did something bad would be inaccurate, since only a specific section did that deed.

Now, you’re probably wondering what sage grouse and invasive species have to do with national defense. The answer is “less than nothing.”

This is just another example of reps who profess their undying love for sportsmen during election campaigns but toss us under the bus for supporters with deeper pockets whenever they get the chance. In this case it’s the shipping industry, some developers, and all the businesses and ideologues that hate the Endangered Species Act.

In the first case, one of the most effective ways to stop the disastrous spread of invasive aquatic species is by regulating wastewater from ocean-going ships. Those rules cost shipping time and some money, but they help keep our native fishes and aquatic habitats safer. Eliminating them is a direct threat to your favorite fish—from trout to walleye, bass to bluegill. It also will cost taxpayers extra millions in cleaning up water sources.

“Communities and businesses across the country that have borne the tremendous costs associated with aquatic invasive species deserve a solution that shuts the door on future invasions,” said Marc Smith, policy director for the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes Regional Center. “Provisions in the House bill, however, attempt to gut the Clean Water Act, which would leave the door open to future economic and natural resource impacts. We urge the Senate to act in the best interest of people and wildlife and reject these short-sighted measures.”

The second issue is one you’ve been reading about on these pages for a couple of years. It’s one of those feel-good, win-win stories politicians who hate regulations are always advocating.

The abbreviated version: The sage grouse has been edging toward threatened and endangered status as its habitat base was destroyed by development, including the rapid expansion of energy extraction. To avoid a listing that would hurt everyone—hunters, ranchers, energy developers – an unprecedented partnership was formed, including many of those interests.

Last year that program showed signs of success.

That didn’t please some House members from a few Western states.

They were hoping the bird could be listed, so it would set off another war on the ESA and their push to give states control of national lands as well as public fish and game.

The success of the multi-partner voluntary program caused them to panic, so they stuck an amendment onto a must-pass national defense bill. Their measures would allow governors to veto some aspects of the federal conservation plans, thereby rendering those plans toothless. And it would make it almost impossible for the USFWS to make any ESA listings until 2026.

Sportsmen’s groups—hardly environmental whackos—are not happy. “If language contained in the House bill were to become law, it would throw into question decades of statutory precedent, scores of environmental laws, and the subsequent legal decisions around those laws,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “This legislation is a Trojan horse for transferring public lands to the states and stands to have lasting repercussions beyond curtailing conservation efforts in sagebrush country.”

Groups like the TRCP are hoping enough senators from both parties will prove to be true friends of sportsmen, and prevent any of those House amendments from making it to the final bill.

We’ll find out in the next few weeks.

Photograph courtesy Bureau of Land Management Oregon and Washington/Flickr