Getting ahead of the grouse

By Baker City Herald Editorial Board July 27, 2011 09:55 pm

Baker County ranchers have a rare chance to prepare for, rather than react to, the listing of an endangered species.

We hope a lot of them take advantage.

The species is the sage grouse. About one-third of Baker County, mostly in the sagebrush-rich eastern and southern sections, is habitat for the chicken-size bird.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has decided that federal protection for the sage grouse is warranted, but that other species are higher priorities.

Ken Anderson of the Baker Valley Soil and Water Conservation District said the grouse could be listed as threatened or endangered within the next three years.

Although it’s not clear how a listing would affect private property, it’s conceivable that some ranchers would have to cut back on the number of cattle they graze on their land as a means of protecting grouse habitat.

That could have a detrimental effect on ranching, the largest sector of the county’s economy.

To that end, Anderson has scheduled a meeting for Aug. 2 in Baker City at which landowners can learn about the Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurance.

The basic idea is that landowners who, in advance of a species listing, take certain steps to protect its habitat, will not have to enact additional measures when the species is listed.

And lest anyone wonder whether this program equates to a case of crying wolf, the sorts of things that could qualify a landowner make sense, both environmentally and economically, even if the sage grouse is never listed.

In fact, controlling noxious weeds and juniper trees, and employing a grazing rotation system to ensure pastures continue to produce ample forage, are techniques that many ranchers already use.

Of course the details, as with most government programs, could be troublesome for certain property owners.

But the potential benefits for those who participate could be significant — enough so to justify spending a couple hours scrutinizing those details.

The Aug. 2 meeting will run from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Crossroads Carnegie Art Center, at the corner of Auburn Avenue and Second Street.