Utah hopes sage grouse protections plan will soar to success

Published: Friday, May 18 2012 8:00 p.m. MDT

Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, said getting industry to help shoulder the financial costs of preservation comes with a cost passed on to consumers, something he believes should be borne by the federal government.

"If you want to protect these birds, federal government, then you are going to pay for it and we will set aside some land for these single's bars for these birds," Noel said.

But environmental groups warn it is better for industry to be involved now on a voluntary basis rather than later through mandates.

The listing of the northern spotted owl can provide a glimpse of what kind of impact an endangered species listing can have on industry. The endangered status is blamed for pushing a struggling logging industry in the Pacific Northwest to near extinction, reducing harvests by 80 percent and costing more than 150,000 jobs. Protections also extended to private lands to the save the species in three states, where the loss of old-growth forests threatened the birds existence.

One initiative rolled out early this year in Colorado and Wyoming sets up a regional habitat credit trading market for energy developers and private landowners, in which credits are earned in exchange for investment in conservation practices to protect sage grouse.

Developed by the Environmental Defense Fund, the idea is to take proactive steps to ward off any listing.

"If the grouse is listed it is going to have a pretty big impact on energy companies and private land owners," said David Wolfe, the group's western interim director of habitat and energy.

"It is an insurance policy against facing operational disruptions," for energy companies, Wolfe said. "If they have certainty they will not face disruptions, that has financial value to them."

Companies or land owners could purchase and then bank credits earned from avoiding activities that would disrupt sage grouse habitat or investing in safeguarding additional habitat. The credits would then help facilitate the energy or other land-use projects.

"If you only avoid and minimize, you are still losing ground," Wolfe said. "The only way to stabilize is to add a little bit in for the species and maybe preclude a listing, which is better for everyone."

E-mail: amyjoi@desnews.com
Twitter: amyjoi16

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