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October 20, 2017

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Squabbling breaks out in group studying sage grouse issue


Nevada Division of Wildlife, Kim Toulouse, / AP

A male sage grouse, left, struts with two other males during mating season in April 2000 in northern Nevada.

CARSON CITY — Infighting on a panel appointed to head off protections for the sage grouse erupted Thursday after the Nevada Department of Wildlife suggested restricting livestock grazing in the bird’s habitat.

The department submitted comments on a draft environmental impact statement recommending that livestock be kept away from sage grouse habitat to reduce the “potential for harassment and displacement of birds during the breeding season.”

The comments incensed some members of the Nevada Sagebrush Ecosystem Council. The Department of Wildlife is represented on the council.

Council Chairman J.J. Goicoechea of Eureka said the department’s position “caught us by surprise” and that “they also put some anti-mining language in their comments.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is under court mandate to decide by 2015 whether greater sage grouse found in 11 western states warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act. In Nevada, a listing could curtail activities across 17 million acres of public land.

States, including Nevada, have been working on their own plans to protect the bird and avoid a listing that officials fear would hinder renewable energy development, mining, recreational activities and threaten rural livelihoods. The biggest threat to sage grouse is loss of sagebrush habitat.

Assemblyman Ira Hansen, R-Sparks, called on Gov. Brian Sandoval to force the Department of Wildlife to withdraw its comments.

The deadline for submitting comments on the draft environmental impact statement was the end of January, and the Department of Wildlife presented its findings by scientists without clearing them with the commission.

Tom Wasley of the Department of Wildlife defended the agency, saying the comments were not anti-livestock or anti-farming.

“There are different scientists with different perspectives,” Wasley said. “I don’t think our comments are on trial.”

A diversity of opinions boosts the council’s credibility, because if U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials thought they were getting a “rubber-stamp, single approach, they might question the validity of that,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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