For greater sage grouse success, local control matters

Although we hail from different regions of the country, we share the belief that land management decisions are most effective when made by local communities using the best available science. This is especially true when considering listing species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Local experts and communities offer important knowledge and perspective that should be relied upon when making decisions that affect them. A clear example of this need is the current debate on the status of the greater sage-grouse, which is found in 11 western states: California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.

While intended to help recover imperiled species, the ESA often overlooks local input and delays responsible land and habitat management. Local resources like conservation districts exist across every county in the U.S. and offer tested, trusted relationships with landowners in their communities, providing locally led conservation expertise and technical assistance. Conservation district staff work with landowners to make appropriate land management decisions to not only conserve natural resources, but to establish and fortify biologically diverse habitat, including for endangered, threatened, or at-risk species.

Listing the greater sage-grouse would undermine the time and resources already in use to manage the species. Extensive work has been underway for more than a decade by local actors across the greater sage-grouse’s range to ensure its well-being, involving thousands of landowners. Through local collaboration with conservation districts, landowners in the West have already maintained and restored millions of acres of greater sage-grouse habitat.

We agree that the greater sage-grouse must be protected, yet to do so successfully requires local, collaborative conservation, input and decision-making. Threats to the sage-grouse include wildfires, exacerbated by improper fuels management, and invasive plant species. Local conservation districts work with landowners every day to control fire-prone invasive species and noxious weeds, conduct prescribed burns, and remove hazardous fuels from the landscape, all of which threaten greater sage-grouse habitat.

Rather than list the greater sage-grouse, investments in local programs are the best way to deliver conservation. When local conservation is properly supported, landowners can make the best possible decisions for their lands and the many species that call them home. With locally led conservation driving decisions, we all win — the greater sage-grouse included.

Rep. Kelly Armstrong is the at-large congressman for North Dakota. Michael Crowder is the president of the National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) and manages a ranch in eastern Washington.

Tags Endangered Species Act greater sage grouse Kelly Armstrong

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