Language to block the listing of the greater sage grouse passed the House last week as part of the Fiscal Year 2016 National Defense Authorization Act.
Livestock groups called the potential ESA move an "arbitrary listing that would have significant negative impacts on the West."
"Livestock grazing and wildlife habitat conservation go hand-in-hand, and ranchers have historically proven themselves to be the best stewards of the land," Brenda Richards, Public Lands Council president, said in a statement.
Richards explained that if sage grouse are designated for protection under the ESA, many ranchers may no longer be permitted to allow livestock to graze on or near sage grouse habitat, habitat which spans across 11 western states and encompasses 186 million acres of both federal and private land.
"This decision would not only destroy the ranching industry in the west, which is the backbone of many rural communities, it would also halt the conservation efforts currently underway by ranchers," she said.
PLC, together with the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, said with many states already effectively managing and conserving the sage grouse populations, the provision written by Chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, Rob Bishop, R-Utah, also prohibits the federal government from instituting their own management plans on federal lands which go beyond those state plans already in place.
"The state plans that are already in place focus on improving sage grouse habitat, through decisions based on-the-ground where impacts to the bird can be best dealt," said Richards, who ranches in Idaho. "Ranchers in particular have consistently lived and operated in harmony with the sage grouse for many decades, and in fact, the core habitat areas are thriving largely due to a long history of well-managed grazing."
Lesser prairie chicken >>
Lesser Prairie Chicken
An amendment offered by Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., addressing the Lesser Prairie Chicken was also included in the bill. The Lesser Prairie Chicken, which habitat spans across Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado was listed as threatened last year by the Fish and Wildlife Service.
The language included in the bill would reverse and prohibit the listing of the Lesser Prairie Chicken as threatened and endangered until 2021, NCBA and PLC said. After 2021, the Lesser Prairie Chicken could not be listed unless the Secretary of Interior determines that the goals in the range-wide management plan are not being met.
"The Endangered Species Act has become one of the most economically damaging laws facing our nation's livestock producers," Richards said. "It is an outdated law that hasn't been reauthorized or updated since 1988."
When species are listed as "threatened" or "endangered" under the ESA, Richards said the resulting use-restrictions placed on land and water are "crippling."
"We appreciate the effort to stop and reverse these listings, and before any more listing decisions are made, a hard look at and modernization of the ESA is needed," Richards said.