Letter to the Editor: Sage grouse standoff
The recent standoff in Nevada between the BLM and rancher Clive Bundy proves one thing: the West is a political tinderbox that the slightest spark could ignite into bloodshed. Concerning Bundy, he may or may not be the hero some make him out to be, but the BLM’s use of hilltop snipers and attack dogs is indefensible. Still, sparks are flying and this incident is a warning. The most dangerous spark flying is the possible listing of the Greater sage grouse on the Endangered Species List. This decision has a deadline of September 2015. Personally, I’m amazed how few people locally know of this deadline or fathom its ramifications.
Misinformation regarding sage grouse has caused me to write the editorial director of the National Rifle Association to say I will not be renewing my membership in the NRA because their attitude in this matter has been irresponsible and ridiculous. From highlighting a letter from a “retired BLM biologist” — which inferred all problems were due to cattle — to gun writer Ron Spomer’s article, which argued we must keep hunting grouse to save them, the NRA is being short-sighted. Spomer even reasoned that because we kill millions of domestic chickens annually, hunting won’t hurt sage grouse.
Spomer is comparing a factory-farmed domestic fowl to a wild bird that is already on the bottom of the prairie food chain? What is the NRA thinking?
A few years back, the Montana Stockgrower’s Association (of which I am not a member) called for the end of sage grouse hunting in Montana. An Outdoor editor for one of Montana’s largest dailies lashed back in his column. When I challenged him on this, he responded that he hated the MSGA and would fight anything they suggested. Great. Good science. Even better journalism.
The Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks stance on this issue is that license sales help support grouse research and habitat protection. Fine. But let’s make one thing clear: it is money that protects the sage grouse, not the hunting of sage grouse. If sportsmen cared about sage grouse they’d encourage a moratorium on hunting but donate license fees to help the bird. FWP is on shaky ground in another area. In spite of various federal and state plans for improving habitat, neither state nor federal officials will seriously consider predation as a cause of sage grouse population declines. Once a pickup pulled into my yard driven by a man who identified himself “as a wildlife professional from New Mexico.” He said he was helping with a sage grouse survey in this area. His parting words to me were: “I’m not from this area, so I can say this. You folks don’t have a habitat problem. You have a coyote problem.”
So, it seems people shooting sage grouse; coyotes, hawks, fox, eagles, and bobcats eating sage grouse; and skunks, raccoons, weasels, ravens, crows and snakes eating sage grouse eggs is somehow either beneficial or neutral to grouse populations. There are many reasons for a decline in sage grouse populations: overgrazing, dry land farming of Big Sagebrush steppes, West Nile Virus, and prolonged drought cycles are certainly among them. But continued hunting and the ignoring of predation defies common sense.
Politics, it’s been said, is the art of compromise. But for compromise to be possible, reasonable minds must prevail. What we have in the West are polarized ideological extremes, centralized power grabs, and a flammable cauldron of frustration. Watch out for the next spark.