by Marcia Jensen
There’s an old saying that you can’t fight City Hall. That means that the government is just too powerful to go up against. But is it really true?
Recently, San Juan County residents were stunned to learn that 35 percent of the privately-owned land in the entire county has been proposed as critical habitat for the Gunnison sage grouse. It is a wild bird the Feds are in the process of placing on the National Endangered Species List.
My husband and I arrived home the other night to find that we had just missed an important town meeting on the subject here in Monticello. A question/answer session was conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in which local residents were allowed to express themselves.
According to reports, the meeting was passionate, but respectful. We were informed that our ranch, south of town, was included in the proposal, along with our neighbors and just about every other landowner in the area.
This particularly puzzled us because there are no sage grouse on our land, and we have no evidence that they have ever existed there. The same is true for many other landowners.
To state the obvious, this critical habitat listing could have a serious adverse impact on all private landowners in the proposed areas. Grazing and farming could be seriously hampered. Future oil and gas leases, as well as exploration, could be severely curtailed or eliminated altogether.
Residential construction and land development might be stopped, as well. The county tax base could be seriously affected. All this courtesy of the Gunnison sage grouse.
I think most of us are aware of the fact that the Endangered Species Act has been inappropriately used for decades as a vehicle to stop development and oil and gas production all over the West. We’ve all watched other communities be ruined by these listings, the most famous being the Spotted Owl which has severely impacted the lumber industry in the northwest.
I love animals. Sometimes, I love them more than people. I don’t think I could hurt an animal if my life depended on it. But with our constitutional property rights at stake, I immediately knew we had to do something to keep this proposal from seriously damaging our community.
Some believe it’s inevitable that the sage grouse will make the endangered species list, and our only hope is to try to fight the proposed critical habitat designation.
But is it inevitable? Is it fate? Or do we have a chance?
Enter the case of the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard. This three-inch lizard lives in Texas and New Mexico and had been a candidate for the Endangered Species List since 1994. That also happens to be the region where 20 percent of the nation’s oil and gas exploration occurs.
The listing of this lizard was considered a sure thing and would have devastated the industry in eight counties in both states. But the citizens of Texas and New Mexico managed to stop it. How did they do it?
They did it by working together across county and state lines and coordinating between local governments, industry and one soil conservation district. And one more thing…they enlisted the help of the American Stewards of Liberty (ASL).
Who are the American Stewards of Liberty? A non-profit organization that has been fighting to protect constitutional property rights since the early 1990s.
The Texas-based organization, under the direction of Dan and Margaret Byfield, has achieved a strong track record of success by implementing a coordination strategy with citizens and local governments throughout the country and accessing the federal courts when necessary. One of their most recent successes was preventing the listing of the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard.
How did they manage to prevail against the odds? It became clear that the science behind the proposed listing was agenda driven and totally inadequate.
Based on the research and strategy put in place by the ASL, the local governments threatened to sue in Federal Court. The Feds backed down. It was a stunning victory for citizen property rights and saved the oil and gas industry in an important part of the country.
In San Juan, as well as several Colorado counties, we are faced with a similar threat. Proposed listing of the sage grouse could seriously affect our property rights and economy.
Fortunately, ASL is already on the case. They are working with Garfield County, CO to challenge the listing of the Greater sage grouse, of which the Gunnison sage grouse is a sub species.
They have met with two scientists who have been cited over 200 times in the Federal Register. These scientists are “alarmed” by the actions of the government and say they will do more harm than good.
The ASL, along with other scientists, believes the government’s findings are “built on a house of cards” and listing is not warranted. Moreover, the burden is on the government to prove that currently proposed critical habitat areas must be designated in order to save the species and that the designation won’t be detrimental to our local economy.
What can we do to keep the sage grouse from becoming the next spotted owl? We can begin by encouraging elected officials to work together across state and county lines in Utah and Colorado.
ASL could be of great assistance to help plan strategy and mount a challenge to both the sage grouse listing and the critical habitat designation.
Assistance from our Congressional delegation is critical. The State can help through financial resources. Environmental lawyers have actually stated that they intend to keep the sage grouse story as quiet as possible.
If they don’t want publicity, there must be a reason. We need to put our story out to national media outlets to gain as much exposure as possible.
All these initiatives can work. Just because they say you can’t fight City Hall, doesn’t make it true. We can prevail, but we have to act now.
Let’s all contact our local officials, bring in the experts and work together. The Federal Government exists to serve the people. Let’s all work to make sure it does.
ASL can be contacted at: P.O. Box 1190, Taylor TX 76574, (512) 365-2699, firstname.lastname@example.org.