Friday, March 21, 2014 | 2:01 a.m.
Based on her experience when the desert tortoise was protected under the Endangered Species Act in 1989, Terry Murphy provided a grim prediction in the March 10 guest opinion “Listing sage grouse as protected would be disastrous for Nevada” about what would happen to development in Nevada if the sage grouse receives similar protection. She says that land development projects will be “stopped dead in their tracks” like it did in Las Vegas 25 years ago. But the future won’t be as bleak for several reasons.
Major developments and activities that planned for the listing of the desert tortoise and included proactive conservation strategies weren’t stopped. Nellis Air Force Base and the Nevada Test Site continued to operate even though tortoises occur on their land. The Yucca Mountain Project complied with the ESA in less than six months.
Murphy suggests that the best thing to do is to protect as much high-quality habitat as possible while developing a funding stream to support habitat restoration efforts. Most of the sage grouse habitat is on federal lands administered by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service. Protection of high-quality habitats has always been a high priority for both agencies, and both have conducted habitat restoration activities for decades.
Developers siting projects on private lands will have to determine whether their actions may affect the sage grouse. If they might, the developers will have to design a Habitat Conservation Plan and request a permit from the U.S Fish & Wildlife Service.
In either scenario the proposed projects will only be delayed for the time needed to complete the consultation or permitting processes. And the developers will be responsible for any costs or fees associated with compliance, not the taxpayers.
Murphy says the Nevada economy can’t afford the significant damage associated with federal protection of the sage grouse, but the economy is fully capable of absorbing additional costs of complying with ESA. What better evidence is there than the explosive development of Clark County, and its associated economy, concurrent with protection of the desert tortoise and 77 other species?