State agency seeks $1 million to prevent listing of sage grouse
The Utah Public Lands Policy Office is asking for over $1 million in appropriations in order to sue the federal government in efforts to prevent the federal listing of the greater sage grouse as endangered.
Kathleen Clarke, asked a budget committee Friday for $1,075,000 to put together a litigation strategy for what she said would protect public-road use, ranching communities and recreation industries in sage-grouse habitat areas.
The request was met with mixed reactions from members of the Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environmental Quality Appropriations Subcommittee. Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, questioned the use of taxpayer dollars.
"Every time I pick up a budget of some kind... there's a slush fund of lawsuit money," Dabakis said. "We just love suing the feds. Is there a better way?"
But Clarke said her office will face litigation either way.
"The fact is, if we don't like the listing we're going to sue. If we like the listing, environmentalists will sue and we're going to have to help with that. Any way you look at this we will be in court," Clarke said.
The Department of Natural Resources claims its plan would protect greater sage grouse in Utah without the federal government listing it as endangered.
"We know what's going on with our birds. Last year we were the only state in the network that had an increase in population," Clarke said.
Utah is part of an 11-state network with sage-grouse populations. If granted, the requested appropriation will also go toward coordinating with other states' efforts to prevent the listing of the greater sage grouse, with the possibility of a joint lawsuit, Clarke said in the hearing.
Natural Resources Director Michael Styler said Utah has a track record of preserving the bird and should be able to have control over public lands.
"We absolutely believe we can take better care of the sage grouse if they're not listed than if they are listed," Styler said.
Whether the greater sage grouse will be listed as endangered will be determined by the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife by Sept. 30, 2015.