Feds: 1, Mono: 0 in grouse fight

BRIDGEPORT—In a two-hour thrust-and-parry exercise this past week, about 50 Mono County residents, scientists and political stakeholders finally had their long-awaited showdown with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

However, citizens failed to win anything new in their bid to delay an environmental review in connection to proposed federal protection of the local sage grouse.

Ted Koch (pronounced “Cook”), of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Reno, painted no rosy picture for county residents who want the “comment period” on the issue to extend past the federally mandated 90 days, which ends on Dec. 27.

Speaking from the podium on Tuesday, Dec. 3, about a dozen residents said their livelihoods would be compromised if the federal government put restrictions on things such as construction, grazing, and the building of new roads.

They made a compelling case, but to no discernible avail.

Koch, speaking in measured tones, explained to the crowd at the Memorial Hall that the process by which the designation of any species is handled is by edict of federal courts—not the agencies to which they might apply.

“As we read the Endangered Species Act, this is where we must go,” he said.

“Our ESA (Endangered Species Act) listing program is dependent and entirely controlled by the federal courts over the past 15 years. We (within the USFWS) have no control, and that’s why we have these deadlines.

“It’s not elective. We have 90 days for comment. We’re following the law to the best of our ability. I try not to judge whether that’s good or bad, but what I can do is understand the purpose of the comments and try to identify interests of all Americans, from Maine to Los Angeles to Mono County, and then try to come up with a program that best serves the interests of everyone.”

“I know that the listing under the Endangered Species Act is threatening to many. I would simply advocate that we focus on our common interests and successes, and if we do that, my explicit experience is that we will succeed.”

Left out of the discussion were representatives of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, which Koch said is close to earning an exemption regarding restrictions relating to the sage grouse.

Asked why LADWP is so close to exempt status, Koch said, “They (the LADWP) identified this issue about nine years ago, and they’ve been working on it ever since.”

By the end of the two-hour meeting, which was led by members of the Mono County Board of Supervisors, there was very little left on the table.

The board, along with residents, called the meeting in the hopes that USFWS might grant an extension to reply to the impending designation, which they believe would affect practically the entire vast county.

With an armful of documents to offer, the county’s planning director, Scott Burns, entered the meeting with recommendations to conduct a workshop with the USFWS; a request that the USFWS grant a 90-day extension of the comment period, and finally, provide direction to staff for follow-up.

Burns identified “potentially significant long-term economic impacts of the proposed action in his documents.”

What resulted, though, was a two-hour, thrust-and-parry exercise, civil in tone but without any change whatsoever in what the USFWS intends to impose during the last week of December.

The USFWS proposes to designate about 1.9 million acres of critical habitat within the Carson City, Lyon, Douglas, and Mineral counties in Nevada; as well as Nevada, Alpine, Inyo and Mono counties in California.

Koch has 25 years of experience with the service, most recently as the Service’s Bull Trout Coordinator in Boise, Idaho. 

Koch has a B.S. in Environmental Biology from Southern Connecticut State University and an M.S. in Zoology from Idaho State University.