Much like Congressman Mark Amodei, Senator Dean Heller is sympathetic to the Rural Nevadan cause when it comes to the potential listing of the Greater Sage Grouse under the Endangered Species Act.
Samuel Crampton, Senator Heller’s District Director, spoke on behalf of the Senator at the 2015 Nevada Rural Electric Association Legislative Conference and bemoaned a bureaucratic process full of inefficiency that delays positive change for years. Speaking at a recent hearing by the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, the Senator himself noted the devastating impacts a listing would have on the state of Nevada.
Heller stressed the importance of common sense solutions and striking a balance between environmental stewardship and economic development.
“Unfortunately, the Endangered Species Act is a prime example of a law that has proven to be out of date and ineffective,” Heller said at the hearing.
“Since the last time it was reformed over thirty years ago, it has had less than a two percent recovery rate. I know these days you get medals for just participating, but when I was in school, two percent was definitely not a passing grade. It is clear the law is not serving wildlife or our western way of life well.”
Heller talked about growing up in the state and enjoying hunting, camping, and horseback riding and the importance of preserving the environment for future generations to enjoy. He also stressed that effective environmental laws need to protect wildlife and the environment and allow for economic development.
To that end, Senator Heller has proposed a bill, the Common Sense in Species Protection Act, in the Senate requiring the Department of the Interior to report to the public the full economic impact of any proposed critical habitat designations before making a decision about a listing. While the Interior would still be able to limit activities such as mining, ranching, and energy production on designated land, it would require determining the real effect a designation would have on economic development – a factor that’s limited in the current process.
“Additionally, it requires the Service to exclude areas from critical habitat designations if the benefit of keeping it in multiple use far exceeds the benefits a restriction would have for wildlife,” Heller said.
“Access to all lands, particularly public lands, is vital to Nevada’s character and economy. Restricting the multiple-use of those lands in a nontransparent and irrational fashion is not an option for Nevadans who rely heavily on them for their livelihood.”
Senator Heller concluded his speech by expressing hope that the Interior Department will handle the potential listing of the Greater-Sage Grouse the same way it did with that of the Bi-State Sage Grouse; which is to say not choosing to list the bird.
Heller supported the conservation credit system that would allow users of land with potential habitat to buy into the system to fund conservation projects like removing cheat grass and pinyon juniper trees and rehabilitating riparian areas.
Rather than list the bird, Heller, like the NREA and other entities in Rural Nevada, sees collaboration between states, federal agencies, ranchers, land users and other stakeholders as the most promising solution to preserving the Sage Grouse and its habitat without crippling economic development.