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GOP Politicians Won't Keep The Sage Grouse From Listing

Bureau of Land Management

Wyoming Republicans were dealt a setback in their efforts to keep sage grouse off the federal endangered species list.

House Republicans were able to include a provision in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act that would prohibit the federal government from changing the conservation status of sage grouse for the next decade. But the provision was left out of the final bill when House leaders negotiated a final bill with their Senate counterparts. That didn’t sit well with members of the lower chamber.

Wyoming Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis put it this way.

“I’m just exasperated.”

Two years ago the same scenario played out: The House included the provision on the grouse and senators stripped it out. After that Lummis and others demanded a meeting with party leaders.

“The Western Caucus met with House leadership. We felt that we had a commitment that this wouldn’t happen this year and it did. So a lot of us feel sort of let down and a little mislead. So it’s a tough one. There’s a lot of unhappy faces around here.”

But Lummis doesn’t blame her party leaders as much as she blames one person: The Chairman of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee – who happens to be a member of her party and a former presidential candidate.

“John McCain remains an obstacle and he’s probably going to be there next year, so I don’t know that that obstacle is going to clear. And you know in the Senate one member can upset the entire apple cart and that is the case with this bill. There is tremendous gnashing of teeth on the House side, especially among westerners.”

But McCain brushes aside the criticism. He says the Defense bill is essential to national security and he had to drop the proposal on the sage grouse because President Obama threatened to veto the bill if it were sent to him and Democrats would have sided with the White House.  

“You would have had a filibuster here and a veto by the president.”

As for the policy itself, McCain says sage grouse aren’t an impediment to the nation’s military so western lawmakers should look for another bill to attach the provision to, and not the Defense bill, which is known as the NDAA.

“It has nothing to do with defense, because the law is no Endangered Species Act can interfere with the operations and trainings at military bases. So it had no connection to NDAA.”

Congresswoman Lummis sums up her frustration like this.

“Sometimes the enemy is the Senate. This is one of those cases. It is not the Senate Democrats. It is one and only one Senate Republican, and it’s someone I admire. He is just wrong and he is being extremely stubborn and we are where we are.”

Not everyone’s upset though. Environmentalists are cheering the outcome. Robert Dewey is with Defenders of Wildlife has been following the battle over the bird. He says two pending lawsuits imperil the federal government’s conservation efforts.

 “If those lawsuits and the federal plans are knocked out there would be no back stop. In other words if there are no plans to conserve the sage grouse the Fish and Wildlife couldn’t then list the birds under the endangered species act and the birds would be left without any conservation protection.”

Wyoming Senator John Barrasso says western lawmakers aren’t giving up on their efforts to keep sage grouse off the endangered species list.

“Well, I want to make sure that the first opportunity to deal with the issue of the sage grouse, the impact that it’s going to have on Wyoming and energy and the economy in the country. I’m going to look for any possible venue to make sure we can deal with this legislatively.”

Wyoming lawmakers are hoping their effort will be easier at the start of the new year when Republicans regain control of the White House for the first time in eight years.

Based on Capitol Hill, Matt Laslo is a reporter who has been covering campaigns and every aspect of federal policy since 2006. While he has filed stories for NPR and more than 40 of its affiliates, he has also written for Rolling Stone, The Atlantic, Campaigns and Elections Magazine, The Daily Beast, The Chattanooga Times Free Press, The Guardian, The Omaha World-Herald, VICE News and Washingtonian Magazine.
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