Las Vegas Sun

January 19, 2018

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Finishing touches put on sage grouse recommendations

An advisory committee has put the finishing touches on a report to save the threatened sage grouse population while permitting agriculture and mining to expand and use the public lands.

In 2011, there were an estimated 168,000 of these birds that measured 20 to 26 inches long, and the federal government is considering designating them an endangered species.

Gov. Brian Sandoval created an advisory committee to come up with recommendations that would allow mining, agriculture, energy and other projects to go forward and still save the bird.

"We want this to go to the states for management," says Tina Nappe, an environmental representative on the 10-member Governor's Greater Sage-grouse Advisory Committee.

But the federal government will be making the decision.

These birds are found mostly in the northern and central parts of the state and they are in some potential areas of development. Sage brush is one of their main food sources.

One of the main threats to their survival is range fires destroying their food source. One committee goal is to be able to quickly restore and rehabilitate an area affected by fire. And steps should be taken by federal, state and local officials to reduce the number of wildfires, the committee noted.

The report says, "The mining industry has worked successfully with the Nevada Department of Wildlife to plan projects that incorporate wildlife objectives." Allen Biaggi, a representative of mining on the committee, said the impact by mining on the bird population has been small.

The committee agreed to a proposal to allow mining and energy in proposing expanding projects to do their own studies on the potential impact on the bird population.

Committee members were critical of some preliminary work by the Bureau of Land Management in looking at ways to protect the sage grouse.

One committee member called the action by the BLM a slap in the face of the state. Biaggi said mining "could not live" with the preliminary suggestions by the BLM.

But Joe Tague of the BLM said its work was done according to national guidelines. He said he "did not see wholesale areas withdrawn," and the recommendations from the states will be considered.

The committee also said the federal government will have to shell out money to put any plan into effect. "You will need to put your money where your mouth is," said Carson City Mayor Bob Crowell, who is chairman of the advisory committee.

Ted Koch of the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife drew some applause at the meeting when he announced he has persuaded his agency to put up $40,000 for the state.

The report of the advisory committee will go to Sandoval who will work with other western governors to convince the federal government that conservation of the sage grouse is compatible with economic development.

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