PRESS RELEASE - One of the Sage Grouse Petitioners

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Craig Dremann
Research Director,
The Reveg Edge, Box 609, Redwood City, CA 94064
Phone (650) 325-7333

REDWOOD CITY, CALIFORNIA Date: Monday, December 6, 2004

"Protection of Grouse may
be Best Protection for Cattlemen's Livelihood."

The sage grouse, a bird native to 70 million acres of Interior Department public sagebrush-grasslands ecosystem in 11 Western States, is at the center of a political tug-of-war, when petitions started the process of Listing it as an Endangered Species.

Craig Dremann, a 50 year old researcher from the San Francisco Bay area, is one of the petitioners requesting the Listing, and he has been in business as a native grassland ecosystem restoration consultant for three decades. He submitted his petition to U.S. Fish and Wildlife in 2002, after seeing first-hand how degraded the sagebrush-grassland ecosystem had become.

"There are 116 native ecosystems in the lower 48 States" Dremann says, "and the Great Basin sagebrush-grassland is one of the largest that is still more-or-less in one piece--but its perennial grassland and native forb component has become very degraded in the last 120 years"

Dremann considers it extremely fortunate that the Federal government owns much of the Great Basin sagebrush ecosystem, because whenever restoring millions of acres of Federal land is needed, Congress can make the necessary investment to restore it. "The large-scale ecological restoration of millions of acres of Federally-owned lands shouldn't be funded by any of the permitees, like the ranchers or the oil companies," Dremann says.

"All the State Cattle Associations of the Great Basin, plus the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, should right now be lobbying for the Listing of the Sage Grouse," Dremann says. "Sage grouse Listing would provide the economic incentive that Congress desperately needs, to start ecosystem repairs that the Department of Interior reported over a decade ago and Congress never funded," Dremann says. "The sage grouse is the perfect win-win situation for both the cattlemen's and the bird's survival in the Great Basin."

Dremann says, "The Senators of the 11 Western States along with the Department of Interior should be asking: What will it cost to do the necessary ecological restoration of their the sagebrush ecosystem, not just for the sage grouse, but also for the continued future use by the ranchers in their States?"

Dremann's biggest concern is that no discussions have started regarding the total costs to restore the sagebrush ecosystem--at a minimum for the cattlemen's future livelihoods.

"Even if my petition is rejected, and the sage grouse goes extinct, Congress will still need to pay to restore the 70 million acres of the Great Basin sagebrush for the ranchers, and neither the Congress nor the Department of Interior is currently talking about what those costs may be," Dremann says.

Before Dremann's submitted his petition in 2002, Congress only spent an average of three cents per acre per year to restore the sagebrush ecosystem. "Fortunately, all the sage grouse petitioners may have woke Congress up, and Interior's FY2005 budget has been doubled to an average of six cents per acre," Dremann says.

"But every single rancher leasing Federal lands in the Great Basin, to protect their future livelihoods, should be asking their Senators to support the Listing of the sage grouse, and increase Interior's annual restoration budget from the pitiful six cents per acre to the necessary $100-2,000 per acre," Dremann says.

"Between $60 and 200 billion dollars" is what Dremann estimates that the 70 million acres of government-owned sagebrush will ultimately cost to restore. "That may sound like a lot," says Dremann, "but the State of Louisiana has just made a $14 billion commitment to restore wetlands in their State, and the Louisiana wetlands are a whole lot smaller than the entire Great Basin."

What surprises Dremann, is that all the State senators, and all the Great Basin U.S. Representatives cannot get more than a few cents per acre annually to restore the land that their ranching constituents depend on, especially during the current long-term extreme drought. "Congress is voting each year to fund truckloads of money to rebuild Middle-eastern countries, so when do we start investing in the Rebuilding of America?" Dremann says.

A similar situation happened about 80 years ago on over a half-million acres of Department of Interior lands at the Anza-Borrego, east of San Diego. The Anza-Borrego was such a rich grassland that tens of thousands of head were driven each spring across the desert to graze this remarkable pasture.

However, during two Southern California droughts, the Anza-Borrego grassland ecosystem became severely degraded, and the Department of Interior failed to invest in the necessary ecosystem restoration. The cattlemen had no choice but to abandon the lands, and the Federal lands were transferred to the State and today, is California's largest State Park. Dremann asks, "Will Congress and its refusal to invest in the ecological restoration of the Great Basin, cause the 70 million acres of Federal lands to ultimately to become America's largest National Park?"

Other long-term damage to the Great Basin ecosystem, for both the sage grouse and the cattle, is being caused by the Department of Interior's policy of annually sowing millions of pounds of cheap exotic plant seeds, especially after fires.

"The intentional sowing of millions of pounds of exotic plants each year needs to stop immediately, and a policy established that only local native seeds will be sown after fires, or to restore the sagebrush-grassland ecosystem" Dremann says. "You cannot restore an ecosystem using the wrong building-blocks, and any exotic seeds and non-local native seeds are wrong."

Dremann says that all the political lobbying efforts to block the Listing misses the point that the sage grouse is trying to make. "The Sage grouse only acts as an indicator, like a gas gauge, to alert us that the sagebrush ecosystem is running on 'empty'."

"Since the sage grouse and the cattle utilize the same grasslands, sagebrush and streamside natural resources," Dremann says, "If the sage grouse goes extinct, the cattlemen's livelihood may follow soon thereafter; but if the ecosystem is restored, then everyone wins. "

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