Idaho — The Sage-Grouse State

By Frank Priestley

For the Capital Press

Idaho has become the epicenter of the sage grouse issue.

Forget potatoes, forget gems, while our state legislators are in Boise this spring they may want to consider an additional piece of legislation declaring Idaho “The Sage-Grouse State.”

It has a ring to it.

Let’s forget about the farms and ranches that form the backbone of our state’s economy and just protect sage-grouse habitat because these birds are more important than any use we could possibly concoct for public or even private land. Let’s forget about the science that shows how range fires are the biggest threat to sage-grouse and how these birds are more prone to congregate in areas where livestock actively graze.

Let’s add in protection of large predators and maybe a few endangered plants, since they’re also more important than the people whose ancestors settled this state.

Let’s route giant power transmission lines across the prime farmland that sustains us because sage-grouse habitat can’t be disturbed.

Let’s all just step back and allow animal rights activists from other states and anti-grazing environmentalists from Sun Valley, their lawyers and the judge in their pocket to take charge of Idaho and see how that goes.

What the hell, maybe we can even start a trend where people from rural areas of all the western states pack up and move off to the city. All these folks could toss aside their work ethic and go on the government dole.

Not to belabor the point, but perhaps it would be a good idea to block off some large tracts of scenic land for new wilderness areas. Maybe we should start with Fremont and Owyhee counties. Might as well toss in Lemhi and Custer since they’re almost all federal land anyway. And we don’t want to leave out northern Idaho. Bonner and Boundary counties have some caribou and grizzly bears and probably some owls that need protection — might as well add them to the mix in the sake of fairness. Let’s add in Blaine County, too, while we’re at it, but we will cordon off a nice section where rich people can live — and ski.

When you add up all of the nonsensical developments, the disregard for reason and logic, the inaction of our Congress, the misguided yet powerful influence of large corporations and public utilities, failure to learn from mistakes (spotted owls is one) and the corruption of our legal system, it shows that the efforts of some of our best thinkers coupled with the general apathy of our population, have allowed stupid to take over.

Case in point: About 16 years ago the Western Watersheds Project sued the Bureau of Land Management making the absurd claim that the feds didn’t comply with the National Environmental Policy Act or do enough to protect sage-grouse in Owyhee County and therefore the livestock that have grazed that land in harmony with all sorts of wildlife for well over 100 years, have got to go. The lawsuit ordered BLM to evaluate 120 grazing allotments in Owyhee County and although the lawsuit is under appeal, BLM has begun ordering cuts that will reduce the number of cattle on public lands in the county by as much as half.

Cuts that deep will put many ranches under. Ranchers in the area are holding benefit auctions to raise money for the legal defense, but the environmental group’s court tactic is draw out the legal process until the court costs amount to millions.

So the ranchers are in a legal battle to maintain their way of life. Win or lose they risk going broke while the environmental group can recoup its legal fees through the Equal Access to Justice Act, which takes us back to the predicament of the takeover of stupid.

Our advice is plan to put your kids in law school. No one else is going to have a job in this state in a few more years if we continue down this path.

Frank Priestley is president of the Idaho Farm Bureau.



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