Anyone who hasn’t been able to wrap their head around the contentious sage grouse issue can get an easy, one-hour lesson from the Public Broadcasting Service.
Reno affiliate KNPB debuted its documentary “The Endangered West: Stewards of the Rangeland” Sunday night.
As its title implies, this show looks at threats to ranching. Promotional ads reveal the specific form of threat by showing a photo of a sage grouse. Nevada Rangeland Resources Commission sponsored the documentary, but it includes interviews with Idaho ranchers as well.
“The sage grouse issue is actually more about who’s going to control the use of the lands in the West than it is about the bird,” Elko County rancher and commissioner Demar Dahl tells KNPB.
Interspersed between the testimonials from ranchers are clips from an interview with Jon Marvel, head of Western Watersheds Project. The group recently received a favorable court ruling in its effort to get the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the sage grouse as a threatened species.
Quinton Barr of Western Range Service in Elko outlines the conundrum over a species that is considered to be so plentiful that hunting them is allowed, yet so threatened that their survival allegedly depends upon closing off 50 million acres of public land to grazing, mining or other uses.
Ted Koch, chief of the FWS in Nevada, explains that even though there may be half a million sage grouse spread out over several Western states, the Endangered Species Act considers each isolated population separately, and the bird is “below viability” in 38 out of 41 populations.
Viewers can come to their own conclusions, but from our standpoint his argument sounds like the equivalent of saying that mining would become extinct if all of the small mines went out of business and only Barrick and Newmont remained. Not an ideal situation in terms of diversity, but certainly not a reason to take human activity out of the equation — especially not with the explosion of wildfires that pose the biggest threat to wildlife habitat.
In fact, at the conclusion of the program, Koch gives the best argument for not making a decision on the listing anytime in the near future. The current tension has public and private interests working collaboratively to improve habitat.
The local Maggie Creek Watershed Restoration Project is cited as a prime example. Cattle grazing remains part of the picture, yet Marvel remains steadfast in his effort to eliminate public lands ranching in the West.
“The Endangered West” provides plenty of facts — and a few fireworks — in this informative look at an issue that is all too often skewed by environmental groups.
If you missed it Sunday night, the show is on again tonight and Thursday. The station is channel 16 on Satview cable.
Members of the Elko Daily Free Press editorial board are John Pfeifer, Jeffry Mullins and Marianne Kobak McKown.