Greater sage grouse protection measures do not adversely affect the military, and there is no national security reason to restrict federal conservation plans, according to letters from Pentagon environmental officials sent to House Democrats.
The letters, released publicly by House Democrats on the eve of a defense authorization bill markup in the House today, set the stage for a fiery debate over the bird.
“Overall, the Department of Defense would not expect a significant impact to military training, operations or readiness should the greater sage grouse be listed under the endangered species act,” wrote acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Readiness Daniel Feehan.
Feehan, along with environmental heads of the Army, Navy and Air Force, also made the casethat pre-existing laws and policies adequately insulate military bases from being adversely affected by any endangered species listing.
All four officials wrote in response to inquiries from Reps. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who serve as ranking members of the House Armed Services and Natural Resources committees, respectively.
Smith and Grijalva initially wrote to the military branches in March in order to pre-empt a repeat of last year’s defense authorization bill, when Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) inserted language into the bill that would prevent the Fish and Wildlife Service from listing the greater sage grouse as endangered for 10 years (E&ENews PM, April 27, 2015). They told military officials that while they “understand that actions being taken to conserve the greater sage grouse would not adversely affect military training, operations or readiness,” they wanted to clarify the Pentagon’s stance on the issue “in anticipation that this may once again be an issue of discussion during the upcoming consideration of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2017.”
They were right. Since the pair sent their letter, Bishop again inserted sage grouse language into the House version of the defense authorization. This year, his provisions would allow states with sage grouse management plans to block federal plans and prevent the Interior secretary from changing the bird’s conservation status until Sept. 30, 2026 (E&E Daily, April 26).
Yesterday, House Democrats used the DOD letters as a rallying cry, accusing Bishop of using the defense bill to deal with “issues that shouldn’t be in there at all.”
“They want to put Democrats in the position that we are against defense,” Grijalva said. “I think it is a waste of time and actually superfluous to what we have to do in this bill.”
Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-Mass.), who last year led the charge during the Armed Services markup to purge sage grouse language, vowed to do the same at today’s session.
“The defense bill really isn’t an appropriate vehicle for that, so we will be talking about it,” she said. “We will do whatever we have to do.”
For his part, Bishop defended his language accusing House Democrats of politicizing the military.
“Those were private letters that do not imply on official position,” he said.
Bishop said that, despite the letters, he continues to believe that sage grouse protections “have a huge impact” on the military and added that the issue is also about the freedom of Western states to deal with the concern as they see fit.
“To vote against this is to deny the reality of what is happening in the West,” he said. “Unfortunately, there are people on this committee who do not live there and who will take a military statement and make it political.”