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Man vs. wild:Utah attorneys vs. conservationists in the fight for the Grouse

In elementary school we sloughed off the original “Three Rs” (Reading, ‘Riting, and ‘Rithmatic) for three new Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. From very young, the generation of adults born after 1970 have been indoctrinated in the cause of scarce resources and endangered animals. But the black-and-white story fades into shades of gray as we begin to understand more of the interconnectedness of our communities, and Utah’s recent efforts not to get the greater sage grouse listed as a protected species as reported in the Salt Lake Tribune’s storyis another example of the complexities we face maintaining a civilization in the midst of nature.

Utah lawmakers are already hoping for $2 million in state funds for a lobbying campaign that would delay the federal government’s listing of the grouse for another 10 years. Because the state is anticipating “inevitable” litigation around the federal decision, the state’s Public Lands Policy Coordination Office is asking for another $1 million to gather data and construct legal arguments. An interesting job for the Utah attorneys assigned to the case, the litigation would hinge on evidence of the state’s efforts to protect the grouse and the impact the listing would have on the humans’ quality of life.

It wouldn’t be a cheap fight for the Utah attorneys, either, already adding up to over $3 million, when the extra $200,000 potentially allocated toward protecting and enhancing what’s left of the grouse’s habitat is considered. And not everyone is happy about it. Advocate Steve Erickson says it seems like “overkill,” going on to make accusations toward the state: “If you don’t like the results of the [conservation efforts] you resort to politics.”

Others argue, however, that the $3 million will benefit Utah’s residents – at least $1.4 of it has been allocated for air quality research and money to support initiatives aimed at cleaning up Utah’s air pollution. But much of the funds would be spent on Utah attorneys; as outside consultants developing legal strategies, the lawyers would “educate” members of Congress on the ramifications of the grouse’s listing. Even though the listing decision is still a good 18 months away, Utah lawmakers aren’t wasting any time, and they’ve got 20-40 billion reasons too. With a potential enormous hit to the state’s oil and gas industry, the grouse listing could have long ranging impacts across the U.S.

Still, others are saying that $3 million now is too much, too soon. One senator proposed dedicating $1.5 million now for lobbying for conservation measures, but the committee rejected his idea, saying that the feds are more likely to take over Utah’s lands inhabited by the grouse, making the already urgent situation dire. Utah has to have a plan, Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, R-Vernal reiterates, and a plan that is prepared for the inevitable litigation that will follow when the federal plan would damage private land, schools and homes (as much of the grouse’s habitat near Vernal has been developed) and would suffer penalties. As other states grapple with similar issues, it becomes a question of the age-old man vs. wild—and as a country, which we value more: business enterprise or natural conservation.

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