Sage grouse issue needs proactive approach

Last year the federal government issued its first ever emergency order (EO) to protect the Sage grouse

Last year the federal government issued its first ever emergency order (EO) to protect the Sage grouse, an endangered species that lives in the southeast Alberta and Southwest Saskatchewan area. There are only about 100 of the birds left and the expectation is that they could soon become extirpated from that specific area. However, the Sage grouse species is far from going extinct, there are many thousands living just across the border in Montana.

The reality is that the EO has more to do with environmental political mischief than any concern for the fate of the Sage grouse. Green lobby group lawyers found a clause in the federal endangered species act that allowed for an emergency order to protect a species that was in eminent danger of going extinct in Canada. The lobby groups threatened to sue the federal government if they did not issue the order. Rather than deal with a lawsuit that had bad political optics, the Feds weighed the political consequences and counted votes. They found the issue probably involved fewer than a thousand folks who were going to vote Conservative anyway. Compare that to the public relations and urban media hysteria from losing a lawsuit to protect a pretty species of bird from perceived rapacious oil companies and cattle barons. Any political strategist would know what to do.

Politics is merciless and in this case the livelihood of a few ranchers and some oil well operators is a small price for the Conservative government to pay to keep pesky green group lobbyists off their back for a seemingly minor issue. However, ranchers in the area see the EO as a threat to their traditional cattle grazing practices. They anticipate government enforcers will be demanding costly changes that will increase their costs and possibly take away their grazing leases, all to protect a few Sage grouse in an area covering hundreds of thousands of acres. The fact that the grouse is at its northern range and may no longer be adapted to the area is ignored by the EO.

The first casualty in this matter is common sense, that’s just how politically motivated issues work. The fact that tough cold winters, increased predation, limited food sources, competition from other grouse species and other factors may be the cause of the demise of the Sage Grouse is to be ignored. The fact that the Sage grouse exists in abundance right next door in Montana is also of no consequence.

The other reality is that unless the government receives letters or a petition from at least 50,000 outraged citizens (preferably from Ontario), they will not consider rescinding the EO. The issue involves Alberta which can be easily ignored by the feds being they are mostly captive Conservative voters. So what could those affected landowners realistically do to avoid the worst case scenario, that being what the green groups want, complete termination of all cattle grazing and oil industry activity in the area. They need to take a more proactive approach, they need to accept the EO and find ways to moderate their worst fears. They need to take charge of the issue and put forth their own proposal to save the Sage grouse. Align that with a positive political strategy and they could outflank green groups, who are masters at inventing problems and giving governments positive ways to look good at resolving them.

The first step is to announce that local landowners will be taking the initiate to establish an oversight committee to re-establish the Sage grouse in the area. Invite all stakeholders to participate including green groups and governments. Those that refuse will be put on the defensive.  The next step is to announce that extensive research is the only way to establish a scientific road map for Sage grouse preservation. Obviously the One Four Ag Canada research ranch which is in the middle of the affected area would be the centre of grouse research. It would be difficult to oppose such research particularly in light of so much anecdotal evidence as to why the grouse has disappeared from the area. More research is usually a compromise approach for government bureaucrats to cool off and delay controversial decisions.

Time is becoming a factor as busybody green groups, having won the first round, will be pressing the feds to enforce onerous regulations on land owners and lease holders. Without a solid positive alternative Sage grouse preservation strategy, ranchers will soon find themselves losing any influence on the future of the land so critical to their livelihood.