Mead and Hickenlooper

Nov 5, 2017 By Steven R. Peck, Publisher

A somewhat unexpected meeting of the minds regarding the sage grouse took place a few days ago between Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead and his gubernatorial counterpart to the south, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. Now, if the Secretary of the Interior could be brought on board, we might really have something.

Mead, a Republican, and Hickenlooper, a Democrat, combined to write and send a letter to Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke asking him to reconsider messing up the multi-state agreement arrived at a couple of years ago on common-sense protections for the sage grouse in western states.

Led primarily by Wyoming coalition of landowners, industry leaders, recreational land users and conservationists, the agreement hammered out realistic, achievable concessions from all sides that gave the grouse some new layers of protection from development while also avoiding a listing as an endangered species by the federal government - a happening which seemed all but certain prior to the agreement.

The beauty of it was that the federal government pretty much stayed out of it. Only when the working group's plan was ready did feds come in and begin reviewing it -- and they could find nothing of any substance to disagree with.

Certainly there were those who believed that the grouse ought to be listed, with all of the restrictive policies and procedures - and guaranteed courtroom battles -- that would come with it. Fighting about endangered species is something of a niche industry, with willing labor pools ready to clock in on both sides.

Instead, the previous Secretary of the Interior came to Colorado and had a big ceremony, with both Hickenlooper and Mead on stage, praising the accomplishment of the working group, and announcing that the grouse would not be listed after all.

It's hard to say exactly what the new administration has against the idea, but it ought to be all for it. The working group's agreement on the sage grouse is a Republican kind of thing. It is not the result of left-wing activism and unrealistic restrictions. Nor is it the result of right-wing full-speed-ahead development interests.

It is, instead, a pretty remarkable compromise reached by largely at the local level by people who don't typically disagree on very much of anything.

But - and this may be the overriding factor for the new administration - the agreement happened during the presidency of Barack Obama. For some, by definition, that means the plan is suspect.

The letter from the two governors begs to differ. It reiterates a sensible point that has been made in our newspaper and in many other places around the West: This is a good plan.

Presumably Secretary Zinke, a conservative Republican from Montana, would not want the sage grouse to be listed as an endangered species. If that is true, then the working group's plan ought to be left alone - even if it isn't a federal product, and even if it happened under Obama.

Trashing the plan is guaranteed to re-open the battleground over listing the sage grouse. Trashing the plan makes it more likely that the sage grouse eventually will be listed as an endangered species. And trashing the plan is an unwise and ill-informed a slap in the face of the concerned, smart, and highly qualified citizens who crafted it in the first place.

Rather than tampering with the sage grouse policy, the new administration out to embrace it as a model of how the process of protecting threatened species can work. Wyoming has more sage grouse than any other state, with the highest concentration here in Fremont County. Local people were instrumental in the working group which got this admirable policy put into affect. That would be true no matter who is President of the United States or Secretary of the Interior. Mr. Zinke ought to heed the advice of his two Rocky Mountain neighbors and leave the sage grouse plan in place.

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