Listening to the needs of the states Trump is responsive in ways Barack Obama was not, and the Western sage grouse is the better for it
It is a great Idaho tradition to complain that the federal government in Washington, D.C., never listens to the people of the Gem State. In the case of the greater sage grouse, President Trump and his team at the Department of the Interior heard our message and are finally making things right for the species and for Idahoans. This journey began with an invitation by former Obama administration Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Fish and Wildlife Service Director Don Ashe to participate in developing state-based sage grouse management plans in order to foil litigation by environmentalists to list the bird under the Endangered Species Act. It was suggested to me and other Western governors that if we developed our plans cooperatively with the federal government, we would have the chance to balance the economic needs of our states with what was needed to conserve the species.
What happened was the biggest bait and switch ever executed by the federal government during my 12 years as governor of Idaho. My management plan, after much negotiation and significant compromise by Idaho’s regulated community, was deemed acceptable when the Obama administration’s environmental review began. But when it came time to decide on the final Idaho plan, the Obama administration said thanks, but no thanks. To use an analogy, Idaho got an invitation to the sage grouse Homecoming Dance by the Obama administration, but, after we rented the tux and bought the corsage, the Washington, D.C., insiders at the Department of the Interior told us sorry, we found a better date.
We found out after I sued the Obama sdministration that Don Ashe took complete control of the process, and instead of listening to us, he decided it was better to impose a national — not Idaho — view of sage grouse conservation. Mr. Ashe also decided that millions of new acres of public lands needed to be withdrawn from reasonable use forever, even though the Bureau of Land Management later said that there was no need to take that much land out of circulation in order to appropriately address the habitat needs of the bird. Idaho alone had close to 4 million acres designated for withdrawal as “sagebrush focal areas” that showed up at the last minute and had not been openly disclosed to the public for comment.
When he was elected, President Trump promised to listen to Idaho and the states. We worked closely with David Bernhardt and the new team at the Department of the Interior and, after reviewing the existing Western state sage grouse plans, the Trump administration agreed to work on implementing my plan, which had been negotiated with the very Idahoans who know the most about how to work through these difficult issues.
I needed some help with a critical energy project in Idaho, the Gateway West Transmission line. Deputy Secretary Bernhardt again listened to our request for assistance and was helpful in resolving this important energy right-of-way issue for Idaho. If confirmed as the new secretary, Westerners will be assured that David Bernhardt will be listening.
Mr. Trump also listened to my good friend and fellow Western governor, Gary Herbert of Utah. Mr. Herbert made a compelling case to the president and the Department of the Interior that the Obama administration had overreached when it designated national monuments in his state over the objections of the very Utahans who care about their state the most. I was astonished when the president personally flew to Salt Lake City and executed the official documents in the State Capitol appropriately reducing the size and scope of the Utah national monuments. He did so before the very people of Utah who made their voices heard to President Trump, and by any measure it was an extraordinary moment from those of us in the West who believe that to the previous administration, Idaho and Utah were merely “fly over” states.
Those who prefer the command-and-control of the Obama administration in Washington, D.C., will be disappointed with the new Idaho sage grouse plans and are already litigating over the Utah monument designations. I am certain they will try and find sympathetic federal judges who agree with their view and challenge the new plans. But sometimes things worth having are worth fighting for, so thank you, President Trump. In the case of Idaho’s sage grouse plan and other important Western issues negotiated in the West by Westerners, we are indeed fortunate to have the Trump administration on our side when it comes time to go into legal battle.
What happened was the biggest bait and switch ever executed by the federal government during my 12 years as governor of Idaho.
C.L. “Butch” Otter is the former governor of Idaho.