Poll Shows Voters Support State-based Sage Grouse Conservation

Commentary

Poll Shows Voters Support State-based Sage Grouse Conservation

A poll of voters in six western states reveals strong support for the approach states are taking to conserve the sage grouse in order to keep it off the endangered species list. This finding is important to the ongoing debate over whether the sage grouse should be listed under the Endangered Species Act.

Voters were asked whether they support states spending funds to conserve sage grouse habitat in order to keep the bird off the endangered species list. The results for the six states polled are: Arizona, 57% in favor of state-based sage grouse conservation, 32% opposed; Colorado, 59% in favor, 31% opposed; Montana, 54% in favor, 36% opposed; New Mexico, 59% in favor, 31% opposed; Utah, 48% in favor, 41% opposed; and Wyoming, 53% in favor, 39% opposed. In addition, the poll found that three important groups of swing voters favored the state-based approach: Latinos, 75%; younger voters, 65%; and independents, 57%.

These results may well reflect the public’s knowledge and appreciation of the substantial investment of time, effort and funds the eleven states in the sage grouse’s range have put in to conserving the bird, most notably the robust conservation plans all these states have developed and implemented. An indication of the eleven states’ commitment to sage grouse conservation is that these plans have been in place for years, in some cases more than a decade. Some states have even gone so far as to combine a statewide conservation plan with plans for various regions within the state.

Four of the six states in the poll contain sage grouse populations, and a summary of when these states completed their plans shows their commitment to sage grouse conservation (FYI, the Public Land Council has a fantastic searchable website, called the Sage Grouse Conservation Library, that contains a wealth of information in addition to the state conservation plans, including scientific studies, legal decisions and federal documents).

Colorado: statewide plan for the greater sage grouse, 2008, supplemented and updated in 2013; five regional plans for the greater sage grouse, 1999-2008; rangewide plan for the Gunnison sage grouse subspecies (co-authored with Utah), 2005; and six regional plans for the Gunnison sage grouse, 1997-2011.

Montana: statewide plan, 2005.

Utah: statewide plan for greater sage grouse, 2009, updated in 2013; rangewide plan for the Gunnison sage grouse (co-authored with Colorado), 2005.

Wyoming: statewide plan, 2003; and eight regional plans, 2006-2008.

Unfortunately, some environmental pressure groups are in favor of listing the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act because they think the Act will help conserve the bird. Yet in reality, the Act would in all likelihood be detrimental to the sage grouse. Listing would alienate private landowners, who are crucial to implementing conservation efforts, and undercut states’ increasingly successful conservation programs. Sage grouse conservation occurs on the ground in rural regions far from the urban centers where those in favor of listing the bird under the Endangered Species Act often live. Fortunately, it looks like voters in western states understand the importance of states’ role conserving the sage grouse and keeping it off the endangered species list. Let’s hope the federal government gets the message.

Brian Seasholes is a former research fellow with Reason Foundation.