Idaho Fish and Wildlife Supervisor Wants to Avoid ESA Protection for Sage Grouse

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Mike Carrier, supervisor of the Idaho Fish and Wildlife Office, speaks to a crowd at the Idaho Environmental Forum about endangered species in the state on Sept. 30. - JESSICA MURRI
  • Jessica Murri
  • Mike Carrier, supervisor of the Idaho Fish and Wildlife Office, speaks to a crowd at the Idaho Environmental Forum about endangered species in the state on Sept. 30.

At the most recent Idaho Environmental Forum on Sept. 30, the new supervisor of the Idaho Fish and Wildlife Office, Mike Carrier, spoke on the mission of his office, endangered and threatened species in the state, and what goes into developing a conservation strategy to further protect Idaho's wildlife.

He addressed a crowd of more than 60 people representing government agencies like the Department of Environmental Quality, the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service and Idaho Fish and Game, colleges like Boise State University and the University of Idaho, conservation groups like Idaho Rivers United and the Idaho Conservation League, activists, businessmen and anyone else interested in the topic. Carrier offered a glimpse into the inner-workings of the state's wildlife conservation and recovery efforts.

Carrier assumed this new position in February, but his resume includes many years working with the governor of Oregon as an advisor on natural resources and environmental issues, a stint as the director of the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, and a variety of positions for natural resource agencies in Iowa and Indiana. 

Probably to no one's surprise, Carrier brought up the sage grouse first. He said the greatest threat to the bird is loss of habitat—primarily coming from invasive species like cheat grass and unnaturally catastrophic wildfires. 

"In 2010, the service assessed the status of the sage grouse and determined that it warranted [Endangered Species Act] protection at that time," Carrier said. "But the service's ability to protect it was precluded by other funds."

Since then, pushed along by a recent settlement from conservation groups wanting better sage grouse protection, Carrier's office agreed to make a final determination on whether or not to list the species by September 2015—something Carrier would like to avoid. He set to work helping to create a state plan along with Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter's sage grouse task force to "fully substitute the ESA protection."

"Even if the ESA protection is applied, which we're all hoping it won't be because we think we can get more conservation work done more quickly without ESA in the way," Carrier said. "I'm still confident that the Idaho plan affords us the opportunity to protect sage grouse without significant disruption of traditional uses of public land."

Carrier also talked about other species straddling ESA protection, like bull trout and woodland caribou. On bull trout, Carrier said two previous attempts to create a recovery plan for the fish were never completed, but he feels confident in attempt number three.

"The approach we're taking this time is much more pragmatic," he said. "It's one that stresses the elimination of threats to the bull trout across its range, rather than trying to his a population number that may or may not be achievable." 

He said his office is shooting for a realistic population, "because of reasons beyond our control, population numbers may not be restored."

And on woodland caribou, he shared his fears of losing northern Idaho's herds.

"The small herd we've been focusing on all these years is so small and this herd is so slow to increase in number and that location is so vulnerable to degradation that there's great concern that these animals may become extricated from its US habitat before anything can be done to reverse its decline," Carrier said.

He said those three species take up most of his office's time, but some time is also devoted to other flora and fauna including slickspot peppergrass, wolverines, Canada lynx, the yellow-billed cuckoo and the southern Idaho ground squirrel.

Carrier told the crowd what he sees the most threatening to Idaho's fish and wildlife—population growth and land development, as well as climate change. But he said he sees opportunities within the state for profound strides in conservation.

"The first opportunity I see is the many on-going conservation cooperations with the agency and environmental groups underway already," he said. "The other opportunity that really helps us going forward is Idahoans' deep appreciation that this is a place of endless beauty—as expressed by the amount of time our citizens spend enjoying the outdoors—and the recognition that this beautiful place cannot be sustained without conservation."