Local Overgaard resident and chairperson for the Navajo County “Big Game Forever” chapter, Cindy Krug, was asked to attend meetings in Washington, DC, on May 11, 2016. Cindy was one of four Arizona residents who attended these meetings, and she represented the White Mountains portion of the state.
The purpose of the meeting was for Big Game Forever members and staff to meet with some of Arizona’s senators and representatives to discuss (and oppose) the possible listing (as an endangered species by the Federal Government) of the Greater Sage Grouse.
Now, before your eyes glaze over at the mention of another potential species being considered for listing according to the ESA (Endangered Species Act), please read a bit further. In case this is the first time you’ve heard about the Greater Sage Grouse, this is something of which every citizen out West should be aware. The Greater Sage Grouse listing would impact 11 western states, including Arizona, and affect over 167 million acres of public and private land! If Sage Grouse are listed as an endangered species, those 167 million acres, which home to some of the West’s best mule deer and elk herds in the US (not to mention antelope, buffalo, and dozens of other game species), could be entirely closed off to hunting, fishing, and recreating in general. Additionally, if you have any interest in the US Military, you’ll also be concerned to know that of the effected area, 57 million acres are on Military bases, which means that normal military operations would be drastically affected with training operations that would be shut down for several months each year, just because of the Sage Grouse listing. (See “Sage Grouse Restrictions Threaten U.S. Military Readiness”.)
Additionally, listing the Sage Grouse would devastate and cripple mining practices, agriculture, ranching, and oil production in these states.
In a nutshell, here’s what is currently going on with the Sage Grouse out West. In all of the states that are home to Sage Grouse, the State wildlife agencies have their own management plans for protecting the Sage Grouse. Over $750 million dollars have already been spent by State Wildlife agencies to come up with these management plans, and they’re working VERY WELL! In fact, Sage Grouse numbers have increased by 65% in the past two years.
So, you may ask, “If the State management plans are working, then what’s the problem?” The problem is that the Federal Government (US Fish and Wildlife Service; yes, the same agency that is forcing wolves upon us whether we want them or not) is trying to usurp the States’ power for wildlife management, and impose their “one size fits all” management plan upon us all again. And regardless of the fact that the states have already made huge progress in addressing the issue, the Feds want to be in charge. And if they are, then they’ll list the Sage Grouse according to the ESA (Endangered Species Act), and those 167 million acres mentioned above will then become off limits to all of us. It truly is a scary thought. And although Arizona itself doesn’t have any Sage Grouse, our state will be drastically impacted because sportsmen from other states will come here to hunt and fish, and make use of our wildlife since theirs will be off limits to them.
In an “economic” sense, you could say that more people coming to the state would help AZ businesses. However, think about sportsmen from 10 western states now applying for the limited number of hunting tags available! And how about all those people swarming your favorite fishing spot? Or all of those ATVs now buzzing around the mountains. You get the picture. We just can’t handle that kind of pressure on our wildlife and in our mountains.
And there’s something else that I believe is truly at the heart of matter, and that is the hidden agenda of chipping away at our right to hunt and fish. Just think, if the Federal Government closes off 167 million acres of land across the West that we hunt and fish on, how many sportsmen from those states can actually afford to travel to other states to enjoy the great outdoors? In case you’re not aware, non-resident hunting tags normally cost 5 to 10 times what residents pay. Sportsmen will simply throw up their hands in frustration and possibly give up hunting. When something becomes too difficult or expensive, we are apt to abandon it, and that is happening more and more with hunting. We are subjected to this type of pressure from all sides (stricter gun regulations, higher ammunition costs, etc., etc.), and this would be another huge blow to hundreds of thousands of sportsmen and women.
Following is a synopsis of my visit to the Arizona congressional representatives in Washington, DC—
- US Senator Jeff Flake’s office: We met with Legislative Assistant, Lauren Stump, who assured us that Sen. Flake believes that the States should continue to be in charge of managing the Greater Sage Grouse versus the Feds. However, the “Junior Senator” from Arizona, regularly defers to the “Senior Senator”, John McCain, on how to vote. (More on this below.)
- Representative Schweikert (his staffer, Kelly Roberson) and Representative Salmon (his staffer Greg Safsten): Both of these representatives were in agreement with us and said that if a bill came before them, they’d vote to keep the Feds out of the Sage Grouse Management business and continue to allow States to manage them.
- Representative Paul Gosar and his staffer: Rep. Gosar personally spent over 45 minutes with us in his office and is extremely concerned about Federal Government over-reach and its attempts to take wildlife management out of our hands. Rep. Gosar is a true friend to Arizona sportsmen and seems to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. He gave us some good information to help us in our attempt to get a legislative solution to our problem.
- US Senator John McCain’s office: We met with staffer Nick Matiella. Senator McCain is an integral part of this issue. Every year Sen. McCain’s biggest piece of legislation is the “National Defense Authorization Bill” (HR 1735). He is very focused on getting the NDA passed (understandably so). He also, understandably, prides himself on “no earmarks”.
Now, the reason I mention all of this is because we want Senator McCain to include a one-paragraph amendment in his bill which states that the Secretary of the Interior cannot list the Sage Grouse on the Endangered Species list if individual States have their own management plans in place. Essentially, it would prohibit the Federal government from taking over management of the Sage Grouse, and this would be in effect until September of 2025.
Sen. McCain’s staffer felt that this was almost impossible because Sen. McCain would not add anything to his NDA bill that could possibly cause any other senators to vote against it. Plus, he felt that it didn’t have anything to do with National Defense. My question is doesn’t 57 million acres of Sage Grouse habitat on active military bases qualify as relevant to our National Defense?
We tried to impress upon Sen. McCain and his staffer that there are 750,000 sportsmen and women in the state of Arizona (approximately 1 in 7 people). We let him know that we are a strong voice, and we tend to be his base of supporters when he needs us. But now we need him to fight for our rights to hunt and fish, and to protect our outdoor heritage. I sincerely hope that point sank in, considering the fact that he’s in a tough re-election campaign right now.
If any of you should wish to contact your state senators or representatives regarding this matter, you can simply state that you’d like them to fight to keep Sage Grouse management in the hands of State Wildlife agencies, and not the Federal Government. However, Senator John McCain needs to hear this message more than anyone, as he is the only avenue for solving this issue. If he doesn’t include it in his National Defense Authorization bill, we don’t presently have any other options.
For more information on this issue, as well as wolf re-introduction, you can check out www.biggameforever.org. You can also sign a petition against Sage Grouse listing on BGF’s website. It only takes about 3 minutes or less to sign it online.