- The Washington Times - Monday, December 15, 2014

Not all Westerners were relieved to see the sage-grouse rider make it into the final $1.1 trillion federal spending bill.

Sen. Michael Bennet, Colorado Democrat, said Monday he was “disappointed” over the passage of the rider, which blocks the Fish and Wildlife Service from listing two types of sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act until September, saying the provision creates “uncertainty.”

“We’re disappointed the bill included several policy riders on matters unrelated to appropriations, particularly those affecting the Greater and Gunnison sage-grouse,” said Mr. Bennet, who voted in favor of the spending bill, in a statement.

“Colorado communities continue to make a strong, science-based case that local conservation efforts are working, can continue to get better and these birds don’t need protection under the Endangered Species Act,” Mr. Bennet said. “However, thanks to this rider, Colorado communities will now be plagued with uncertainty through at least next September.”

The Gunnison sage grouse, which makes its home in Colorado and Utah, was listed by the agency as threatened in November, despite Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper’s insistence that state and local programs were proving effective and that federal interference was unnecessary.

Mr. Hickenlooper, a Democrat, filed Friday a 60-day notice of intent to sue the federal government over the listing, which is expected to result in regulations that could chill economic development in rural areas.

Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, said in a statement Monday to the Oregonian that he voted against the spending bill for reasons that included the sage-grouse rider, arguing that it “creates uncertainty for Oregon ranchers and interferes with government efforts to protect an endangered species.”

Federal agencies had entered into an agreement with environmental groups to make a listing decision by September on the greater sage grouse, whose vast habitat stretches into 11 Western states.

After Friday’s House vote, a number of Western Republicans applauded the sage-grouse rider, saying it would give federal land managers more time to examine the progress made by state and local agencies.

“For states like Utah, it is especially important that this bill gives the Fish and Wildlife Service additional time to evaluate state progress on management and conservation of the greater sage grouse,” said Rep. Rob Bishop, Utah Republican, in a statement Friday. “States like Utah are making progress every day to collaborate with local communities and public land users to protect the species.”

Environmental groups have decried the listing delay and predicted that Congress will automatically renew the rider in the future spending bills, especially given that Republicans will control both houses starting in January.

Rep. Mark Amodei, the Nevada Republican who authored the sage-grouse rider, said in a statement that the delay would be put to “good use in doing the right thing for all habitat resources.”

“Our advocacy for a one-year delay in the sage hen listing is necessitated not by political agenda, but by the simple fact that over the course of 10 years, the Department of Interior has made essentially no funding requests for sage hen habitat protection or restoration,” Mr. Amodei said.

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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