The omnibus reversed one of Obama’s administrative land grabs


 ( While Don is out of the office, please enjoy this guest editorial )

For years, a bird has been the most expensive drain on the Midwest’s economy. The greater sage grouse is not listed as an endangered animal under the Endangered Species Act, but this has not prevented the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) from placing significant restrictions on business and lifestyle throughout the Midwest in an attempt to protect this notably flamboyant bird. One of few bright spots in Congress’s recently passed budget was finally defunding the protections granted to this bird, allowing economic development to thrive in the Midwest once again.

Finalized in 2015 through the Obama Administration’s Department of Interior, the sage grouse protection plan was a large scale federal conservation plan to preserve a bird that was not even threatened enough to land on the endangered species list. At the time, Department of Interior Secretary Jewell called the plan “historic,” as it dedicated 5.5 million acres of land across ten states to conservation efforts.

As it became quickly clear, environmentalists were the only ones singing praises to this plan.

University of Idaho economist Neil Rimbey explained to the Capital Post, to meet concern surrounding the sage grouse, land managers place restrictions on ranchers, usually requiring ranchers to delay grazing by a month or remove cattle a month early. Rimbey continues, this is done “with no idea of the economic impact, and they can have a very dramatic impact at the ranch level.”

This economic impact is felt across the western lands, from individual ranches to large oil companies.

A University of Wyoming 2016 report found, “Due to the large surface area occupied by sage-grouse in Wyoming, the management of sage-grouse habitat could potentially have a significant economic impact on the State of Wyoming in terms of reductions in commodity production caused by management actions intended to protect the species’ habitat… For oil and gas development and wind development the direct economic impact estimates represents regional expenditures to develop these resources. The annual direct economic impact for commodity production from sage-grouse habitat is estimated to be $18.4 billion. This represents 22 percent of the total economic output for the entire Wyoming economy”.

An $18.4 billion price tag is a lot to pay for a bird that is not endangered, but when looking at comparative maps of the area, it becomes clear environmentalist are not simply trying to save an already abundant bird, they are also trying to further an anti-oil agenda.

The areas listed as sage grouse conservation sites cover some of the most shale oil-rich lands in the western states. By placing protections on this bird, the Obama-era Interior Department threatened to halt one of the most promising new areas of domestic energy production.

The University of Wyoming report continued, since sage grouse protections were implemented, they have cost the state of Wyoming nearly 80,000 jobs in the oil and gas well drilling and production industries.

While much of the recent Congressional omnibus bill has sparked controversy, one matter that can be celebrated was the defunding of the wasteful sage grouse initiative.

Section 120 of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018 explains, “None of the funds made available by this or any other Act may be used by the Secretary of the Interior to write or issue pursuant to section 4 of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (16 U.S.C. 1533)  a proposed rule for greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus); a proposed rule for the Columbia basin distinct population segment of greater sage-grouse.”

This effectively prevents the sage grouse protections from being enforced because the funding will not exist. Congress will have to renew the prohibition every year, but there it is.

While this is a small step in removing environmentalist overreach, it allows for big steps in U.S. oil and gas production to be achieved. The sage grouse should have never been protected to begin with, it is thriving on the western planes, and now our economy can thrive there as well.

Natalia Castro is a contributing editor at Americans for Limited Government.