Republican Rep. Mark Amodei said the BLM's "unilateral policy" of shutting down public lands out of concerns for sage grouse is misguided. But conservationists said it was Amodei, a former president of the Nevada Mining Association, who is off base as states and agencies around the West try to avoid a listing of the bird under the Endangered Species Act.
"I'm glad to see that the BLM is doing the prudent thing and protecting the habitat for sage grouse," said Kyle Davis, political and policy director for the Nevada Conservation League. "Like it or not we have a potentially serious problem here with the sage grouse."
The BLM this week offered 114,348 acres for oil and gas leases, getting competitive bids on only 32,328 acres. The agency deferred another 262,000 acres from bidding because of sage grouse. It was the second time this year the BLM withdrew acreage from oil and gas lease bidding — and the second time Amodei criticized the action as needless.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency is under court mandate to determine by 2015 if sage grouse deserve protection under the Endangered Species Act. States have been working with federal agencies, conservation groups and industries such as agriculture, mining and energy to draw their own plans to protect the bird and stave off the economic consequences they fear if the bird is listed as threatened or endangered.
While the Fish and Wildlife Service will make the ultimate determination, Amodei blames the BLM for stalling public land development.
"Nevada is not losing sage hen habitat due to competitive lease sales by Nevada BLM," he said in a written statement. "It is losing habitat acres to wildfire. The misguided notion that regulating agribusiness, energy leasing and exploration, and the minerals industry will solve Nevada's habitat loss history is bureaucratic fantasy."
He accused federal land agencies of "focusing on a headlong rush to preclude responsible economic development" instead of dealing with true habitat threats.
A draft report released in August by the Fish and Wildlife Service outlined the threats and how sage grouse should be managed to avoid federal protections. Likewise, an advisory panel that was convened by Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval issued its recommendations in July on how the state should mitigate threats to sage grouse habitat while still allowing for economic activities.
While wildfire is a big threat to the bird's existence, fragmented habitat that comes with development is also a big problem.
"It's prudent to reduce other risk factors when we can," Davis said.
"I think it's misguided for him to slam either agency," Davis said of Amodei. "He should be cooperating.
"The different parties in Nevada have been working together."