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Sage-grouse provision removed from defense bill—but a fight remains over at Interior

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Sneaking unrelated legislation into a seemingly simple bill is nothing new. Legislators use this time-honored tradition to sweeten deals, and pass legislation that wouldn't pass on its own Sometimes this tactic is used for the nefarious reason of getting something that is unpalatable or difficult passed undercover. In the case of one of the latest versions of the National Defense Authorization Act, that's exactly the kind of secretive legislation that if passed could have put the greater sage-grouse at risk. That's what could have happened if a provision, added by a congressman from Utah, had not been stripped from the final version of the NDAA last week.

Congressman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) sponsored an amendment to the NDAA which would have barred the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from listing the greater sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act for 10 years, and would have cut out incentives for states in implementing state and federal sage-grouse conservation. As we have reported before, the health of the greater sage-grouse, and its habitat, is a marker of the wider health of the ecosystem. In 2015, 11 states, including Oregon, collaborated with an unprecedented number of stakeholders—including ranchers and environmental groups—to create a sage-grouse management plan aimed to keep the bird off the Endangered Species list. That compromise, according to the Western Values Project, was the greatest land conservation effort in U.S. history—and should be allowed to continue. Yet, special interest lobbying never rests.

Last week, the House passed a version of the Defense Authorization Act that did not contain Bishop's rider. While numerous groups hope to keep the sage-grouse off the Endangered Species list in the first place, barring it from the possibility of being added would have been a dangerous precedent.

We agree with the statement by Jayson O'Neill, deputy director of the Western Values Project, who said, "Rep. Bishop was selling snake oil, trying to disguise special interest favors as riders in must-pass legislation, but the American public and the rest of Congress were too smart to buy his poison pills. This resounding defeat sends a clear message to those working to undermine the West's sage-grouse deal: stop doing the bidding of special interests at the expense of our wildlife and our public lands."

Still, the effort to protect the greater sage-grouse—and other species that require protection—isn't over. Last year, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke—who's been accused of pandering to the oil and gas industry, asked the Bureau of Land Management to review the greater sage-grouse conservation plans that had so recently been agreed upon by those various stakeholders across the West. The BLM is taking public comments through Aug. 2 on that review. In short, all the work done in Oregon and the wider West could be undone by the actions of one Secretary whose loyalties appear to lie with short-term commercial interests over the long-term health of land.

Like so many issues before us in these current times, we can, for a moment, celebrate that members of the U.S. House saw through that dangerous rider to the defense bill. But over at Interior, the fight continues.

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