SALT LAKE CITY — Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, is celebrating the House Armed Services Committee's early Thursday passage of the National Defense Authorization Act, legislation that could block implementation of federal sage grouse management plans in Utah and other Western states.
"As a fan of baseball, I can say it feels good to be batting a thousand," Bishop said. "My amendments will create more jobs in northern Utah. I’m happy we are one step closer to granting greater flexibility and capability to the servicemen and women who sharpen their skills at the Utah Test and Training Range.
"It is also great to see progress toward granting the military the ability to manage training lands and not be beholden to the (Bureau of Land Management) to drain their time and resources with meaningless reviews and bureaucratic hurdles,” he said.
The massive bill also prevents any change in the bird's conservation status for 10 years.
Conservation groups and wildlife organizations said the sage grouse provision in the bill threatens protections for the bird.
“Just like last year, some lawmakers are using concerns about national security as a pretext to prevent the implementation of federal plans to conserve sage grouse and the sagebrush steppe. And just like last year, the arguments for adding this language to the defense bill are groundless. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking on the bird’s fate,” said Clare Bastable, the National Wildlife Federation's public lands program director.
Bastable added late Thursday the organization is hoping the Senate will delete the provision.
Bishop has argued that the nearly 100 land-use management plans adopted by the BLM and U.S. Forest Service to address threats to the imperiled bird jeopardize the nation's military readiness and in particular operations at the Utah Test and Training Range.
HR4909 passed the committee at 2:30 a.m. Thursday after more than 16 hours of deliberation and despite efforts by key House Democrats who argued the bird poses no significant threat to the nation's military.
Bishop, however, was able to get the rider in the bill that allows states with sage grouse populations to nullify the federal sage grouse management plans, which have been controversial in many states throughout the West.
Utah filed a lawsuit against the federal government in February contesting the federal sage grouse management plan, asserting agencies ignored the progress made in conservation of the bird, which has experienced population increases by as much as 40 percent in the state.
The chicken-size bird, which at one point numbered in the millions, has seen 56 percent of its rangewide habitat lost due to multiple threats including wildfire, urban encroachment and invasive vegetation such as cheat grass and pinyon juniper trees.
Environmental groups filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to force protections for the species, which the agency said warranted an endangered species listing in 2010. But the agency was precluded from taking the action because there were higher priorities.
Last September, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said the unprecedented efforts to conserve the bird across Utah and 10 other Western states meant the species did not need to be listed, but conservation efforts needed to continue with revisions to federal land-use plans.
Bishop said the restrictions imposed in the plans are every bit as limiting as an endangered species listing.