Fish and Wildlife director’s death prompts week delay in sage grouse decision

Huge sage grouse listing decision delayed by the death of Sam Hamilton-

Don’t know how many caught the article posted on the sudden heart disease death of Obama’s director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service? Anyway, the decision whether to put the sage grouse on the list has been delayed briefly. It was to come this Friday.

A year ago federal judge Lynn Winmill ordered USFWS to reevaluate their earlier denial to list this bird.

Sage grouse are “sagebrush obligate”. I learned this word a couple years ago. It means “depends on, cannot exist without” — the bird needs sagebrush absolutely for sure.

This shrubby emblem of the West isn’t doing well, at least in healthy continuous stands with the right kind of open spots, called “leks.”

Judge Winmill responded in favor of a suit by Western Watersheds project and Advocates for West because former assistant secretary of interior Julie MacDonald (under Bush) had admitted manipulating  the findings of DOI scientists — changing their recommendations on a whole  bunch of species. She admitted it herself. Many species have since gotten a new look by USFWS. The real biggie though is the sage grouse. That’s because it involves so much public land. Putting the bird on the list will impact off-road vehicles, grazing, oil and gas, geothermal, wind power development, electric transmission lines, and road building.

Livestock grazing is probably the biggest on-going problem. To public land grazers the colorful bird must seem like a strutting version of the devil.

Range fires fueled by cheatgrass and BLM plantings of non-native crested wheatgrass have destroyed several million ares of good habitat in the last 5 years.

Whatever outcome, this is major stuff.

Fish and Wildlife director’s death prompts week delay in sage grouse decision. By Rocky Barker. Idaho Statesman.

This map gives you an idea of magnitude of land affected.

14 Responses to “Fish and Wildlife director’s death prompts week delay in sage grouse decision”

  1. JimT Says:

    It is a shame about the sudden death of such a young man; his family must be reeling from the shock of it all.

    This listing, should it happen, may provide the momentum to begin the process of severely reining in public land ranching. BLM and USFS would be under greater pressure to enforce protective lease provisions, and perhaps close allotments until the habitat can recover. The key here, as usual, will be the designation of critical habitat, something DOI has usually dragged its feet on no matter the Administration. It is a HUGE deal potentially. As I said when I posted the original story, this could make the dust up over the spotted owl seem like small potatoes.

    Can someone tell me why the BLM planted non native grass? Does that make any sense?

    I wonder which of Salazar’s minions will be tapped to fill the post. I can’t think of any of the Colorado folks he brought there who would be qualified, and by now we all know that reaching outside into the ranks of the professional, lifelong environmentalists isn’t going to happen, though it would make sense to at least give Jamie Clark a phone call.

  2. Dusty Roads Says:


    The Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks is Tom Strickland. He’s another Coloradan. Because of the difficulty getting anything past the filibuster in the Senate now maybe they’ll let him be acting director indefinitely.

    Seems I remember Strickland has a good conservation record.

  3. Brian Ertz Says:

    BLM plants non-natives like crested wheatgrass (cwg), Siberian wheatgrass, and even “native” cultivars (which aren’t really native) like giant bluebunch to displace unpalatable (to livestock) sagebrush to inflate the stocking rate on public lands.

    More grass = more “capability” to graze more cattle.

    More recently, BLM has gotten keen to the need to spin it’s landscape-level habitat decimation projects in eco-terminology so they’ll call them “green-strips” or some-such nonsense and claim they buffer cheat or block fire. Doesn’t work on the ground.

    Then, BLM will measure the artificially inflated biomass these plantings foster and permit more cattle on the ground on the theory that there’s more for them to eat.

    Unfortunately, cattle prefer soft, succulent natives to the less palatable non-natives so they selectively pound/grind out the natives to the dirt before nibbling on the non-natives.

    They end up with a landscape of monocultured cwg, thick brittle straw that has close to zero value to wildlife with cheat choking the interspaces.

    Really sad to walk through a planting, a sterilized vista free of wildlife as far as the eye can see.

    Millions of acres.

  4. JimT Says:

    For Strickland to take this position would actually be a step down in status, so I don’t think he would do it unless he was pressured. His strength really is in problem solving, or at least that is how I heard it when he was nominated, though he does have enviro credentials.

    They should hire an experienced wildlife biologist…that is what that position needs, but it probably won’t.


    Thanks for the very thorough explanation. I figured it was something like this, to add forage for cattle at the expense of native species. This monoculture trend seems to be catching..first the Forest Service wanting tree farms to replace clear cuts and old growth, and now BLM to change it into a cattle only zone….Let’s hope for the listing…

  5. Rick Hammel Says:

    The word on the ground in Moffat County,CO, is it wikkb given :Warranted but Precluded” designation. Moffat County has the most birds in Colorado. So who knows how this will shake out?


  6. Wilderness Muse Says:

    I would not be surprised if they looked within USFWS to fill the directorship position. Seems that is what Democrat administrations have done in the recent past. If you have enough political policy people in place above, it is sometimes good to have an insider direct the agency. Don’t know how deep the talent is there these days, but we might be surprised.

    As for the phone call to Jamie Rappaport Clark, I cannot imagine under any circumstances a former USFWS director who then went to head Defenders of Wildlife, the chief litigant in many cases against USFWS, being a likely candidate. Does this appointment require Senate confirmation (actually I do not know)?

  7. Maska Says:

    WM: The appointment of USFWS Director does require confirmation. The Senate hearing for Hamilton, however, was very brief and the questioning was pretty superficial. If someone is appointed from the ranks of current regional directors, the hearing is likely to be similarly brief.

  8. Mgulo Says:

    The acting director for FWS is Rowan Gould, a career biologist. The position of director requires the applicant have a biological degree. Three of the last four directors have come from within the FWS but two of the last five have not. So anything’s possible. Much of the FWS’s current leadership is elegible to retire in the next few years so there is a good pool of available, experienced talent who might be interested in a relatively short-term position. My experience with non-FWS-origin directors is that by the time they learn the agency they’re headed out the door. It is a very complex agency with a lot of bowling teams and it really helps to have a director who knows the laws, authorities, and history.

  9. JimT Says:

    Jamie Clark is Number 2 at Defenders, WM, not the director. Rodger Schlickeisen is the ED of Defenders as well as the Action Group. You would have to talk to her about the current talent pool at FWS, and if there is someone she would recommend. I would be amazed at the shortsightness of the current DOI and White House folks if they didn’t ask her about her recommendations. I believe she has maintained ties and contact with old colleagues there…and now has the perspective of both worlds..a valuable thing.

    Why do you think that her DOW experience disqualifies her? There are plenty of examples of the swinging door in DC between former Feds and private sector employees in other agencies, especially economic (we can debate if that is a good thing…). But, should she be disqualified simply because of her service in the non profit arena?

  10. Wilderness Muse Says:


    I don’t think service in a non-profit is the part that makes the jump back tough. Rather, it is the appearance of being at the front of an advocacy army that has challenged agency policy and direction, costing taxpayers tens of millions of dollars in legal fees. even if you are right.

    Recall that Ruckleshaus jumped back to EPA years ago after being its first director in 1970, then coming back in 1983 (after Ann Gorsuch/Rita Lovelle and the crazies torpedoed the agency).

    Yes, I do know Clark is the #2 at Defenders. She is the chief operating officer overseeing staff and field offices, and no doubt a key policy decision player involved in making challenges against her former agency (guess I should have been a bit more precise in my earlier post). In the case of reappointment you have to have not made enemies with either side, and with a Senate confirmation, your history certainly follows you.

    Now an “outsider.” Clark may undergo a higher level of scrutiny. She have maybe even made some of her former co-workers uncomfortable (or not). And, then there are the issues of “been there, done that” and “why jump back into the fire.” But, some public servants indeed have higher callings. So, who knows.

  11. JimT Says:

    I will make this my last point about Jamie Clark. I think the issue of taxpayer money, frankly, is a red herring, especially when you look at the other expenditures over the last 8 years, as well as the policies of the previous administration and the economic disaster that resulted.

    She offers a unique set of qualifications..having served in the capacity of Director, charged with implementing policies,and she has had the advantage of that as she has sought to advocate for results and policies I think most of us here would agree would be a good thing to happen. I think a chance to look at an agency from the outside is a valuable opportunity. To raise the debacle of Ann Goorsuch does her a disservice. Ann was incompetent. Jamie Clark was and is not. I am not saying she would want to go back; I am saying it would be prudent and responsible for Interior to talk to her.

  12. Wilderness Muse Says:

    Wooooahh, JimT! Back up. You better read that paragraph again. I did not make any kind of comparison to Gorsuch and Clark. Not even close. I mentioned Gorsuch solely for context of circumstances why Ruckleshaus came back to an agency he previously headed, years later.

  13. JimT Says:


    Explanation accepted. That point didn’t come across clearly. And Ruckleshaus wasn’t exactly a great leader either. I think since its inception, EPA has sort of been the weak sister of the environmental agencies, and if you had ever been to the Waterside Mall in DC where those poor folks had to work for most of the time until they finally moved several years ago, it would make sense to you why it seems EPA has been a disgruntled agency too many times..poor employee morale, etc.

  14. Wilderness Muse Says:


    Early in my career I spent a fair amount of time at 401 M. St. It is surprising how some addresses are etched into one’s memory. I even remember vividly eating a seafood dinner at Hogate’s and staring across the Potomac to a flashing red light on a bouy marking the Air Florida Flt. 90 crash, with the plane beneath the surface, bodies still inside.

    EPA’s evolving mission of pollution control is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak (environment – economics – politics). Environmental values, evolving science that sometimes is not able to provide timely answers for good decision-making, and the harsh economics of implementing pollution control strategies can and does create an atmosphere where employee morale can be adversely affected. It was all the more difficult for some of the once lab type scientists, to change into a role as regulators of issues they did not understand. This is especially true when the law passed by Congress says one thing and the realities of actually doing something to meet the lofty goals of the law leave a wide chasm between what is intended by politicians, what is “ecologically” right and what can be done economically.

    “Weak sister” to use your words, yes. But there are reasons, and the pendelum swings back and forth as national administrations change (another source of employee morale problems, which sometomes causes policy to emerge from the bowels of the agancy, to be hammered down as it is reviewed for official agency position to the public).

    It is even more confrontive, though likely less publicly visible, than what we witness here as we talk about endangered species and recovery plans.

    I spent considerable time in the field of “water quality criteria and standards,” for implementation of the Clean Water Act. Indeed that was an area where the water issues unique to the West were not easily explainable to EPA Washington DC bureaucrats (quanity, salinity, background quality, metals, non-point source, overlaid on an archaic water use priority system). Even the regional offices did not understand the problems, and even if they understoo always had a difficult time explaining things to the DC folks that wrote the regulations and approved state management plans.

    Sound familiar in the context of addressing Endangered Species Act issues and the West?

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