Mining News

The Grouse that Roared: A dodo bird?

Posted by Alana Wilson on 7/16/2013 9:34:58 AM

By John L. Dobra i

First, let me say that I have nothing against Sage Grouse. And, I can’t say that I’ve ever seen one. I would say that puts me with almost 90 percent of people who also live in areas where Sage Grouse range from southern Alberta and Saskatchewan, Canada to southeastern California.

Sage Grouse Range image

The Sage Grouse population has be declining dramatically primarily because of loss of habitat. In Canada, Sage Grouse populations have declined 88 percent according to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (cited in a letter to the Minister of the Environment and Parks Canada and subsequent lawsuit by Ecojustice and other environmental groups). In the U.S. the population decline has not been as severe, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been considering listing the bird as endangered species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) which would very possibly have severe implications for all economic activity in Sage Grouse habitat that involves use of the land – mining, ranching, farming, energy development, pipeline construction, suburban and exurban development, and road building. The history of the implementation of the ESA in the U.S. and the similar Species at Risk Act (SARA) in Canada has been one of taking or restricting the use of private property for species preservation. In Canada, the Sage Grouse has been listed under SARA as endangered since 1988. In the U.S. fear of the ESA listing as threatened or endangered has led to the creation of Sage Grouse Initiative which is a coalition of state and federal agencies, industry and environmental groups dedicated to preserving Sage Grouse habitat and populations.

One question, however, is why mining and energy development should be included in the industries threatened by the Sage Grouse. Compared to ranching and agriculture, mining and energy developments have relatively small footprints. Mining and energy development are also temporary uses of the land as opposed to permanent land uses created by ranching, agriculture and suburban and exurban development. In addition, mining and energy developers are required to provide reclamation plans that will restore habitat after development. Frequently, mineral developers actually restore Sage Grouse habitat on lands disturbed before reclamation laws were in force since, in the case of metal mining, much of current development occurs in areas that have been mined in the past. By these lights, mining ought to be a preferred land use in Sage Grouse habitat.

Yet, this is not the position of many (or any?) in the environmentalist community where resource development draws a reaction like that of a rabbi being asked for advice on the best way to roast a pig: The thing should not be done in the first place[1]. But, of course, this is not realistic. The oil will be pumped and the minerals mined. Unlike Sage Grouse, minerals are essential for our way of life. You can’t grow lithium, rare earths, gold, silver, copper, etc. in your organic garden but you need all of these materials for the things the greenies want like solar panels, windmills, electric cars, computers, cell phones, etc.

As the land is used more intensively it would be unfortunate if the Sage Grouse is lost but if that happens, it won’t be because of mining or energy production. The Sage Grouse’s arrested evolutionary development like another ground dwelling bird, the Dodo, is the problem. But, there is a market solution to save the Sage Grouse: allow for their breeding and sale as food. You don’t see cows, chickens and hogs going extinct.

iDirector, Natural Resouce Industry Institute and
Associate Professor of Economics
University of Nevada
Senior Fellow, Fraser Institute
Reno, NV 89557

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