I have been an avid outdoorsman all my life: camping outdoors, backpacking, 25-year Nevada bow hunter, fishing, dirt biker, ATV’er, snowmobiler, mountain biker, mountain climber, hiker, metal detecting, wildlife viewer and conservationist. The lure of Nevada recreation has brought my family to Carson Valley for almost six years now. I belong to the Pine Nut Mountain Trail Association and have spent much time recreating in the Pine Nut Mountains including my personal contribution to clean up. I am very familiar with many of Nevada’s mountain ranges and have spent a good part of my life in them. I was made aware of this bistate sage grouse issue just six months ago, prior to the Nov. 6 Smith Valley meeting, which I attended.
The Endangered Species Act has been exploited by environmental groups who have forged from it a weapon to force humans out of lands they wish to see returned to a pre-human state. The act and other federal regulations have destroyed the lives of thousands of families, closed entire communities, and confiscated hundreds of millions (if not billions) of dollars of private property, all in the name of protecting the environment. The decision to list the sage grouse, a distinct population segment, under the ESA is a gross distortion of science. The “Bi-State Greater Sage Grouse” is not a genetically different subspecies because it found its way (or was transplanted) to the Sierra Front. It is a common sage grouse, sage hen, or wild chicken that resides in great numbers in many of the mountain ranges of Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana.
Upon research, I have found that none of the well-financed large environmental activist groups filing the lawsuits, even reside in Nevada, and most likely have never even stepped foot in the critical habitat area.
According to Fish and Wildlife Service, the current population for greater sage grouse is between 350,000-535,000 birds, which is 70-107 times greater than the “minimum effective population.” At the current rate of stated decline of 1.4 percent per year, it would take 300 years for the population to dwindle to the minimum effective population of 5,000 birds. Is that endangered? It doesn’t sound like it.
The sage grouse is a ground nesting bird. When it flies it doesn’t fly fast or far and would be a perfect meal of easy selection for any predator, including man. The question that everyone asks is: how did it survive without the Endangered Species Act? There are real threats to sage grouse population in the Western United States, and there are also presumed or assumed threats. The real threats are wildfire on winter ranges and subsequent invasion of exotic annual grasses, predation, disease, and any large-scale expansive removal or conversion of native sagebrush vegetation. Ravens are smart, opportunistic predators of sage grouse eggs and many other ground nesting birds. Their numbers have increased at least 600 percent in Nevada in the last 20 years and more than 1,500 percent in some places. According to U.S. Geologic Survey wildlife biologist, Peter Coates, who studied bi-state sage grouse, 90 percent of nest failure is due to predation and ravens are the most common sage grouse predator by about 60 percent. These black birds have a more negative effect on sage hen nest survival than any other single element, even more than the amount of cover in the habitat. There are many coyotes today (I have them at my valley floor property most every evening and morning). The coyote smells the sage hen in her hiding place even in their burrows in the snow. They dig a little and reach in and grab those grouse one after another. Sheep and cattle open up the canopy of vegetation and the sage grouse can move around and feed better. Sage grouse and other wildlife are better able to protect themselves when they can see predators coming. Coyotes and ravens have no problem detecting their prey, but they have trouble getting close enough. Dense cover lets predators get in close to their prey without being detected. Predator control and livestock grazing is the most efficient way for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the sage grouse. A pilot project designed to keep the sage grouse off the endangered species list by killing ravens with poisoned eggs and by reducing wildfire threats though livestock grazing is being done in other places in Nevada. Why not use this method in our area?
Several of the sage grouse conservation measures listed in the BLM’s national strategy proposes to restrict or eliminate land use or activities that in fact pose little or no threat to grouse. Supposedly, to reduce habitat fragmentation and sage grouse road kill by vehicles, these conservation measures include closing dirt roads and two-track trails in priority sage grouse habitat and-or converting existing roads to “administrative use only.” The justification for these restrictions on public access is questionable. To any rational person, these hypothetical and highly unlikely impacts to sage grouse certainly are not adequate justification to restrict public use.
During the nearly six years I have been recreating on the west side of the north/south ridgeline side of the Pine Nut Mountain Range between Highway 50 at the north end to Highway 208 at the south end, I have not come across a single grouse or carcass. I speak these words for many individuals who are natives here and they also stated they have not seen a sage grouse. This part of the Pine Nut Mountains is not and never was sage grouse habitat.
Many people who now reside in Carson Valley have relocated from California. Nevada’s advertised outdoor recreation lure and the opportunity to relive the past childhoods most of us have had is what have brought the majority of us to this amazing and beautiful place. Adequate recreational opportunity for all residents and visitors is the No. 1 issue that must be addressed by any action. The relative importance of recreation on a national basis is demonstrated by the Bureau of Economic Analysis statistics for spending on recreation. The index for recreational spending has increased 349 percent between 1979 and 2004 according to their analysis. No other sector has increased this dramatically. The potential impact of this Bi-State Sage Grouse Endangered Species Act to the regional economy would be devastating. Clearly, the public wants and needs adequate recreational opportunity and this should be the No. 1 theme of this evaluation and decision. On behalf of all recreationists, businesses and ranchers whose livelihood would be compromised and damaged, it would be in the best interest of the NVFWS and the BLM to avoid a class action lawsuit that would surely entail if the sage grouse are listed under the ESA.
In closing, I am against any limiting access of public lands in the Pine Nut Mountains to recreational and ranching activities. This includes: hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, ATV’s, OHV’s, grazing or just plain walking my dog in the area. Humans are also a part of the environment. The local people that live, work and use these lands should have the final say in how they are used, not anyone from other states that have no investment in the local community. The agencies goals and objectives to protect the Bi-State Sage Grouse habitat can be met without severely limiting or restricting responsible managed motorized recreation uses within the planning area.
Thank you again for the opportunity to comment.
Ed Bischofberger is an outdoorsman and recreationist.