Whither the Muleys and Sage Hens?
Two wildlife stories of importance in the newspapers this week.
- North Dakota mule deer licenses will be cut by almost 40 per cent in 2011.
- There will be no sage grouse season in North Dakota this year.
Three successive harsh winters is the reason for the cutback in muley licenses.
Lack of reproduction by the sage grouse is the reason for the elimination of the sage grouse season.
At least those are the official reasons given by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.
No mention by Game and Fish about the potential impact on wildlife in western North Dakota (the only part of the state in which muleys and sage grouse live) by the massive increase in oil development. Nope, lucky for our crack wildlife agency leaders, we had some bad weather to blame it on. Otherwise they might just have to admit that the quantum change in the landscape of western North Dakota brought on by oil development just might have some impact on wildlifeâ€”something their own wildlife biologists warned about in the 2010 report which has been squashed out of sight by the Governorâ€™s office and the Game and Fish Director. There were long sections in the report on each of those species, and the threats they face from massive oil development.( Example: â€œAt the current level of (oil and gas) development, impacts (on sage grouse) may be substantial.â€ But of course we are not supposed to read that. Itâ€™s in the secret report, which is not so secret any more.
But no mention of that in this weekâ€™s news release, or in any of the stories the media carried, which were basically reprints of the news release. Nope, must have been the bad weather that caused the declines in mule deer and sage grouse populations. I am reminded of the event coordinator who did a poor job getting his event organized and then, realizing that it was going to be a flop just before it was scheduled to take place, dashed off to church to pray for a blizzard, so heâ€™d have an excuse for no one showing up at the event. Well, boys, the weather canâ€™t stay bad forever. One of these days youâ€™ll run out of excuses.
Meanwhile, hereâ€™s a memo to North Dakota hunters and outdoors enthusiasts: Get used to the stories, because theyâ€™re going to become an annual occurrence. Sage grouse are very close to being listed as an endangered species because of oil and gas development all across their native range. We’ll never hunt them again, or even be able to go watch their amazing mating ritual in the spring. Mule deer numbers will just keep declining until there are too few to hunt.
Unless, one day pretty darn soon now, we get some real leadership at Game and Fish.
Too late for the sage grouse. But thereâ€™s still time to save the muleys. If anybody cares any more.
Dear Director Steinwand
More than two weeks ago, I sent a letter to North Dakota Game and Fish Director Terry Steinwand, after urging the readers of my blog to do the same thing. Maybe you all did, and maybe heâ€™s just been swamped trying to respond to you, because he sure hasnâ€™t gotten around to responding to me. I know that when I managed a state agency a couple decades ago, I usually responded to my letter writers within a week or soâ€”usually within a day or so. I guess times have changed. So today I thought I might share that letter with you. Whenâ€”or ifâ€”I get a response, Iâ€™ll share that too.
April 27, 2011
Terry Steinwand, Director
North Dakota Game and Fish Department
100 N. Expressway
Bismarck, ND 58501-5095
I am very worried about the future of wildlife in western North Dakota in light of the massive oil development taking place there. I am writing to share that concern with you, as head of our stateâ€™s natural resources agency, and to ask what your agency is doing on behalf of those critters who cannot fend for themselves in this rapidly changing environment, and who must depend on us humans to act on their behalf.
Iâ€™m guessing youâ€™re as concerned as I and tens of thousands of other sportsmen and women, and Iâ€™m guessing that is what led to the report by your agency last summer on the impacts of oil development on wildlife and habitat. Unlike me, though, you are in a position to direct resources to impacted areas which might lessen the impact of this development. In fact, your staff offered 14 suggestions for just such relief. When I read the report, I saw a number of things that could have been put forward as legislative proposals in the Legislative session just ending. Unfortunately, that did not happen. A number of other suggestions by your staff could lead to discussions both with the energy industry and with other agency heads who are in a position to take the steps suggested by your staff.
So, my first question is: Do you plan to finalize the plan and release it to the general public? If so, what would be the next steps? Draft Legislation? Interagency meetings? An interagency task force? Meetings with industry officials? Executive orders? Further study and additional recommendations at the end of that study? All of the above? Other steps I havenâ€™t mentioned?
Terry, I should think at the very least you should be in continuous contact with the Oil and Gas Division and the State Health Department, sharing your concerns and suggesting actions. They are the two agencies who directly regulate the oil and gas industry. And that the State Parks Department, Agriculture Department, Tourism Department, State Historical Society, Indian Affairs Commission, State Land Board, and State Water Commission should all be gathered around a table on a regular basis with you and the regulatory agencies, talking about what is happening out west that is affecting the quality of life of all North Dakota citizens and visitors to our state. I think you could be the hero here for initiating these discussions and developing a plan of action for western North Dakota that includes more than just rolling over for this industry which, while it is bringing tremendous wealth to our state, is proving very costly to our landscape and our environment.
I donâ€™t want to deal with the politics of all this, other than to say that you, as chief of our stateâ€™s natural resource agency, have a responsibility to step up and take the lead on this threat to our natural resources; mostly our wildlife and its habitat. To do less is to abdicate the bully pulpit that comes with the job of Game and Fish Director. North Dakotans are counting on you to lead us. Weâ€™ll help.
Lynn Helms said last week there will be 26,000 oil wells in western North Dakota before this is over. North Dakotaâ€™s land area is about 70,000 square miles. The oil patch is roughly one third of that area. Do the math, Terry. That would be at least ONE OIL WELL FOR EVERY SINGLE SECTION OF LAND in western North Dakota. Do you think our wildlife can survive that, without extraordinary measures being taken by your agency, which is charged with protecting our stateâ€™s wildlife? I donâ€™t know what those measures are, but you have the experts on your staff, and based on the recommendations they made in your June 2010 report, they know what they are talking about. Put them back to work, Terry. We need them. Or else the North Dakota we know will disappear forever. On your watch.