Reno Gazette Journal, Friday June 29
Don’t complicate military funding with wildlife issues: Johnson
By Larry Johnson
The National Defense Authorization Act is wending its way through Congress. This important legislation provides funding for our armed forces and national defense – which is why we need to ensure the bill doesn’t get bogged down with amendments that have nothing to do with our national defense and everything to do with politics. Unfortunately, a representative from Utah is trying to do just that.
His pet project is attempting to derail the historic conservation plans that kept the sage-grouse off the endangered species list by attaching an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would derail sage-grouse conservation in the name of national defense. What opponents of sage-grouse conservation are attempting to achieve is to renege on a deal made with Western states that kept the sage-grouse off the endangered species list. Western governors, including Gov. Sandoval, hunters, ranchers, miners, industry representatives and federal agencies came to the table and developed the historic agreement that would eliminate the need to list the imperiled bird.
This was a gargantuan task, one of the largest collaborative conservation efforts ever undertaken in our country. The process was exhaustive, inclusive and resulted in a historic agreement. Which is why the attempts to undermine this effort are so maddening. Nevadans came to the table, rolled up their sleeves and got things done. Decision-makers in D.C. could actually learn a thing or two from that process instead of trying to go back on the deal.
As hunters and sportsmen, we care about the plight of this bird because sage-grouse conservation also benefits big game in Nevada. Sixty percent — 16.7 million acres — of identified sage-grouse habitat in our state is also important to big game, particularly our declining mule deer herds, according to Nevada Department of Wildlife data. Those out to derail sage-grouse conservation plans claim the plans will hinder activities on military installations.
But this is just a classic political smoke screen. Defense officials already have said the sage-grouse plans will not affect military readiness, training and operations. Those in the House and Senate who are trying to attach this amendment to an important military spending bill are doing so only because they know that there is very little support for their scheme.
They hope that by quietly slipping this amendment into a must-pass bill, they can sneak something over on us. This scheme will ultimately end with the disastrous endangered species listing decision that we have been trying to avoid. We hope that Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Dean Heller truly understand the amount of work that went into this deal and oppose any effort to derail sage-grouse conservation by using our national defense as an excuse.
When members of Congress come together over the next few weeks to agree on a final defense spending package, the sage-grouse amendment needs to be left on the cutting-room floor. The stakes are high on this issue and we need the folks back in Washington, D.C. to work with us and honor the deal that was made. If we don’t stop playing politics with military spending, we’re going to be right back where we started from a few years ago with the threat of an endangered species listing.
This is a very real threat to our Western way of life. These sage-grouse plans have nothing to do with the military and everything to do with conserving the very habitat we need to maintain our iconic wildlife populations here in the West. We need to stop playing politics and get to work on implementing the sage-grouse plans. A deal is a deal; that’s how we do things in Nevada.
Larry Johnson is the president of the Coalition for Nevada’s Wildlife and past president and director for Nevada Bighorns Unlimited. He is a lifelong sportsman and wildlife conservation advocate.