Washington, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley today asked the Interior Department for a positive response to their Sept. 22 letter urging approval for a program that has inmates produce sagebrush plants to help restore sage grouse habitat after fires.
Today’s letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke comes after the two Oregon senators received no response to their letter from nearly five months ago encouraging approval as soon as possible of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) agreement with the Institute of Applied Ecology in Corvallis for the Sagebrush in Prisons Project. This program has been highly successful throughout Oregon and six other states.
“The program’s success has been advertised and well publicized by your very own agency and was featured on the cover of the BLM’s Northwest Magazine summer 2017 edition,” Wyden and Merkley wrote.
Yet the project agreement ended on September 30, 2017, and the Institute for Applied Ecology has still not received formal notice on funding for the project. The senators said BLM staff has told them informally that the Interior Department has declined funding for this proven and longstanding program.
“As you are well aware, and as the BLM noted in its Northwest Magazine story, restoring fragile sagebrush habitat is time-consuming and challenging work particularly since the plants are localized to different areas, and loss of habitat through wildfire is one of the preeminent risks for a listing of the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act (ESA),” Wyden and Merkley wrote.
“Interior’s decision to deny funding to this critical project is incongruous and inconsistent with the agency’s work to keep the bird from being federally listed under the ESA,” they said.