Barbed Wire by Doug Cooper: Study of grouse report shows flaws
June 10, 2013
The Northwest Mining Association (NWMA) has released an independent study it commissioned on the Bureau of Land Management's National Technical Team (NTT) report on sage grouse. The NTT report is to be the basis for new regulations on federal land throughout the West. The NWMA hired Megan Maxwell, who is both an attorney and a biologist to review the NTT report. Maxwell discovered some interesting things. While the title of National Technical team sounds impressive it seems that the team borrowed some practices from desperate High School students. Maxwell discovered that many of the citations in the report do not refer to actual studies or they refer to studies that do not support the conclusion made in the report.
I have to confess that I once used a 1910 encyclopedia as a reference for a college paper but at least the reference was to a genuine article on the subject. The NTT must have gone to the Bagdad Bob school for technical writing. The BLM is supposed to use the best available science in making their determinations but even the agency's own peer review noted that some of the referenced studies contained data that could not be repeated or contained significant mischaracterization of past research. Even stranger, the NTT overlooked existing federal and state regulatory programs aimed specifically at sage grouse conservation. Why is it that the only time a federal agency ignores existing regulations is when they propose more restrictive new regulations?
The whole point of the NTT report was to address issues brought up by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services designation of the sage grouse as "warranted but precluded" under the Endangered Species Act. Amazingly, that designation never says that the BLM needed better or different regulatory mechanisms to protect sage grouse. All this time the BLM has had manual 6840 on special status species management sitting on the shelf. Only a rich country like ours can afford not to use a set of costly regulations before throwing them away.
Maxwell's study also confirms what I had suspected that sage grouse core areas were based only on leks and did not include other important seasonal habitat. This means that those of us blessed with ranching in the core can look forward to new areas being designated to protect sage grouse nesting areas and winter range. Another troubling omission is that the NTT report speaks of conservation measures designed to achieve population and habitat objectives – yet nowhere in the report are these objectives stated.
Measurable and attainable must be foreign concepts to the technical team. I guess we can only hope that the BLM will tell us when we have too many sage grouse.