Battle of the Sage Grouse: Can a 5-Pound Bird Be a Threat to National Security?
Policy + Politics

Battle of the Sage Grouse: Can a 5-Pound Bird Be a Threat to National Security?

Jeannie Stafford/USFWS via Flickr

The sage grouse is an odd-looking, pheasant-like bird species known for the strutting mating ritual of its males. If you believe Republicans, it’s also a potential threat to national security.

The Pentagon’s Military Services’ Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration Program awarded a $2 million grant to state and federal officials in Nevada to help refurbish 11,000 acres of habitat for the pheasant-like bird, the Associated Press reported.

The funds will be combined with another $2 million in matching dollars to restore the roughly seven miles of prime sage grouse territory located under airspace controlled by the Fallon Naval Air Station, near Reno.

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You may not have heard of the sage grouse, known for the strutting mating ritual by males, but its future has been at the heart of several recent policy fights in Washington and stirred up fierce debate throughout the natural resources community.

Last year, before lawmakers could agree to a $1.1 trillion spending deal to keep the federal government’s doors open, they wrangled over language to delay the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from adding the sage grouse, whose population has fallen from the millions to a few thousand in a handful of states, to the endangered species list.

Republicans and Democrats strutted their stuff again earlier this year when the House Armed Services Committee held its marathon mark-up of the fiscal 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

The $612 billion policy bill, which serves as a roadmap for all Pentagon programs and initiatives, included a similar ban on adding the sage grouse to the Interior Department’s high-profile list.

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Republicans, led by panel member and House Natural Resources Committee chair Rob Bishop (UT), defeated an attempt by Democrats to strip the language, arguing the bird’s still sizeable population hampers operations at several military sites throughout the country and could endanger national security by dragging down readiness.

President Obama threatened to veto the House legislation for a myriad of reasons, including “non-germane” provisions like the sage grouse ban.

House and Senate lawmakers are working to weld their versions of the NDAA together. Congress has passed the policy bill for 53 consecutive years; a presidential veto would be unheard of and many of the members involved in the conference talks have wondered if Obama will actually make good on his threat.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has until September 30 to meet a court-ordered decision on whether or not to add the sage grouse to the list of species protected under the Endangered Species Act.