The United States Department of Agriculture — the same entity that proved unable to answer the question a farmer posed to President Obama recently — is paying western farmers and ranchers millions of dollars to protect a bird that is not on the endangered species list because there are too many of them.
The bird is the sage grouse. In the last two years, the USDA will have paid $112 million to farmers and ranchers in 11 western states to implement practices to preserve the bird’s habitat. Yet, the sage grouse — which is found in Wyoming, Colorado, Montana, Idaho, South Dakota, North Dakota, Utah, Nevada, Washington, Oregon and California — is too numerous to be included on the endangered species list. Indeed, 10 of the 11 states where the bird is found allow it to be hunted.
I’m all in favor of sensible environmental protection programs, but the key word is “sensible.” With our current budget issues, paying millions of dollars to farmers and ranchers to try to preserve the habitats of birds that aren’t endangered is not a prudent use of federal funds — particularly when about 40 percent of every dollar spent on the program must be borrowed. I recognize that $112 million is a mere drop in the federal budget, but we need to pay attention to every penny if we are going to bring our enormous budget problems under control.