- Associated Press - Thursday, July 9, 2015

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - Wyoming’s congressional delegation and governor’s office have different approaches to protecting the state’s energy and ranching industries by keeping sage grouse off the endangered list - but that’s not counterproductive, an adviser to Gov. Matt Mead told a state legislative committee Thursday.

The delegation unanimously supports bills that would postpone any listing. That helps the governor’s office by keeping pressure on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service not to list, Mead adviser Jerimiah Rieman told the Select Federal Natural Resource Management Committee.

“I don’t think that their efforts are hurting us, frankly,” Rieman said. “It helps with the pressure that we have.”

The governor’s office has been working closely with federal officials this summer on refining state and federal sage grouse protections in Wyoming. Fish and Wildlife faces a court-ordered deadline of Sept. 30 to decide if the greater sage grouse needs protection as a designated threatened or endangered species.

Wyoming’s congressional delegation - Rep. Cynthia Lummis and Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso - has been more adversarial with federal agencies with its support for legislation to postpone any listing. One measure to withhold federal funding to implement any sage grouse listing for another year advanced Wednesday in the U.S. House under veto threat by President Barack Obama.

Other bills would postpone listing for five years or more.

Mead has neither endorsed nor opposed such legislation, prompting state Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, to ask Rieman where the governor stood on that approach.

Wyoming’s state sage grouse conservation strategy depends upon the success of federal sage grouse planning efforts to be effective, Rieman told lawmakers.

“There is a reality that without these federal plans, Wyoming’s strategy does not work in its entirety. Wyoming needs the federal plans to be there,” Rieman said.

Mead joined Interior Secretary Sally Jewell in Cheyenne on May 28 in announcing proposed protections for sage grouse on federal land across 10 states. Since then, the governor’s office has been meeting routinely with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s Wyoming State Office on federal and state land-management planning for sage grouse in Wyoming, Rieman said.

Still, concern remains high in the 11 states where the bird is found that protections for sage grouse would impede oil and gas development, renewable energy, ranching and other development on federal land.

The BLM national office in Washington, D.C., could override talks between Mead’s office and BLM officials in Wyoming on the details of protecting sage grouse locally, said committee Chairman Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton.

“Out of Washington, out of the clear blue, comes something that does away with our hard work,” Bebout said. “That’s frustrating as heck.”

Also, states less active than Wyoming in protecting sage grouse also could set back Wyoming’s efforts to keep the bird off the threatened or endangered list, Bebout said.

Top BLM officials in every state with greater sage grouse have been discussing how to conserve the bird’s habitat on BLM lands but not all every state has done as much as Wyoming, said BLM Deputy State Director Buddy Green.

“We’re further down the road than the other states,” Green said. “To the degree that I can, I’ve tried to influence my colleagues in other states.”


Follow Mead Gruver at https://twitter.com/meadgruver

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