CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Conservationists across the state are questioning Nevada's commitment to a plan to protect sage grouse and stave off a possible listing under the Endangered Species Act after Gov. Brian Sandoval asked the state's wildlife director to resign this week.
Many conservationists fear the forced resignation of Department of Wildlife Director Ken Mayer represents a change in scientific wildlife management by the state — a deviation that may bring disastrous consequences, said Kyle Davis, the Nevada Conservation League political and policy director.
"Certainly one of my concerns is that this will set us back to the point we aren't able to have success in preventing the listing," Davis told The Associated Press. "Given what I know right now, he's done an excellent job, and I don't see how this is the right move."
Mayer was asked to step down Wednesday after serving six years in the role. His resignation is effective Feb. 12. He declined to comment.
He is nationally known for his elite expertise in regards to the sage grouse issue, so removing him from the process only adds trouble to an already fragile plan, Davis said.
"At the very least, it sends a bad message to the federal agencies that when we're supposed to be doing everything we can to conserve the birds' habitat, the governor would essentially fire the best expert he's got in the state," Davis said.
Ted Koch, the Nevada state supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said his department was "excited" about the state's initiative to preserve the sage grouse habitat. "Last summer, the governor convened a sage grouse ecosystem council with a set of recommendations that we thought were very positive," Koch said.
At least two legislators, however, expressed concern the state's commitment to the effort may be waning. Assemblyman David Bobzien, D-Reno, and Sen. Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, said in a joint statement that the timing of Mayer's ouster was peculiar.
"Director Mayer's departure at the request of the governor right before session raises serious concerns about where wildlife fits in our state's priorities," Smith said.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is under a court mandate to determine by 2015 if the sage grouse, a chicken-sized bird, warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act. Multiple western states are working on plans to protect the species without federal intervention that state officials fear could come with heavy economic tolls.