Congress To Negotiate Defense Bill With Sage Grouse Protection Restrictions

Jul 10, 2018

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Credit US Senate Committee on Armed Services

Congress is set to begin ironing out differences in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) this week. The bill funds Department of Defense programs and activities. 

The House version of the must-pass bill includes a rider that would prohibit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from listing the greater sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act for ten years. The lesser prairie-chicken and the American burying beetle would also be prevented from becoming listed as threatened or endangered.

House Republicans have argued legal protections for the chicken-like bird would hurt military training operations on western land. Yogin Kothari, senior Washington representative for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said, if the rider goes through, it would undermine the extensive coordinated strategy throughout the west to protect the sage grouse. He added a ten-year ban would likely become even longer if passed.

“When you have a rider like this in a must-pass bill, it’s really hard to get out. You see that in appropriations bills all the time. By adding this anti-science rider under the NDAA, signing a death warrant for the sage grouse,” Kothari said.

It’s the third time the NDAA has carried the controversial amendment, but some think the rider could actually go through this time. Kothari said Senate Armed Services Chairman and Arizona Republican John McCain will not be at the helm of the committee that could decide what stays within the NDAA. In years past, he’s kept sage grouse out of the debate.

“Because he’s out in Arizona, is more hands-off, the next person in line is Sen. [Jim] Inhofe. He’s interested in seeing that through,” Kothari said.

Utah Representative Rob Bishop is the rider’s sponsor. House Democrat and Natural Resources Ranking Member Raul Grijalva introduced an amendment to remove the provision. The bill is expected to be completed by the end of July.