by Josh Manning
Manning is a combat veteran and serves on the leadership team of Common Defense, a group of progressive veterans joining together to affect political change. You can follow him on Twitter @joshuamanning23
Far from Montana, members of the House of Representatives are calling the sage-grouse a clear and present danger and using it to hold hostage our nation’s military by placing unrelated bill riders on to the National Defense Authorization Act. Despite the bird not being listed under the Endangered Species Act, some members of congress continue to attack the common sense plans from the Department of Interior that helped keep the greater sage-grouse under state management. Unfortunately, Montana’s lone congressman and our junior senator are supporting these machinations.
The Department of Defense has noted sage-grouse conservation does not hurt military preparedness. In letters to Congress, the Assistant Secretary of Defense, the Navy, Army and Air Force all wrote the NDAA rider is unnecessary. They continued that the military can train as they need in order to be mission ready even with current sage-grouse protections. But Zinke and Daines know better, apparently.
Congressman Ryan Zinke, a former member of the military who claims to have those interests at his heart, has supported this non-germane rider that the military, the president, and a majority of the United States Senate have all called unnecessary. Both Zinke and Daines support a separate anti-conservation bill, the Orwellian-named Sage Grouse Protection and Conservation Act, which would actually reduce funding, incentives and even basic protections. If Congress passes these pieces of legislation then they would effectively transfer management of over 165 million acres of public land, likely triggering new lawsuits from environmental organizations to force the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to list the bird under the Endangered Species Act.
Orchestrated by House Natural Resource Chairman Rob Bishop, a Congressman from Utah and the chief proponent of transferring public land and another member of Utah’s delegation, Chris Stewart, who introduced the SGPCA, both Zinke and Daines claim that they are trying to give states more management of grouse by handing public land management across the west to the states.
What they fail to mention is the state plans were not all created equal nor do they all encompass the necessary tools or funding to be succesful. Montana’s sage grouse management plan is a good example of the latter.
Montana’s sage-grouse management plan is a good one and it will help improve sage-grouse populations by focusing on the roughly 60% of land where sage grouse live in Montana, private land. It is currently funded at $10 million. In order to effectively manage not only the added acreage, but the minerals as well, the state would have to increase funding for the program at a large scale as well as additional legislation. The BLM has good plans as well, as do many organizations such as the Sage Grouse Initiative. When you combine the various efforts and current policies then we already have the necessary tools to conserve habitat, ensure thoughtful development, maintain grazing, and increase sage-grouse populations across the West. In order for Montana to assume more responsibility would require a significant investment of tax dollars as well as more legislation at the state level.
The Senate, under the leadership of Vietnam veteran and war hero Senator John McCain, refused to add the rider to its version of the bill. McCain understands the needs of military and has repeatedly called the rider a distraction that places the NDAA in jeopardy of a veto threat. That would leave our troops without pay and our nation without security as the House of Representatives continues to tilt at science-based public land management and undermining collaborative, locally developed plans. Senator Jon Tester is standing with McCain and supports a clean NDAA.
Zinke should use his background as a military leader and the so-called “loud voice in Congress” to stop the political gamesmanship. Both he and Senator Daines can call for a clean version of the NDAA that does not threaten the continued management of sage-grouse, privatize public lands, or put our military readiness at a standstill. Combining these issues as a partisan political wedge is a slap in the face to active military, veterans, and those who count on the millions of jobs associated with this annual authorization.