Washington DC- Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) released letters from senior military officials this morning stating clearly that despite Republican claims, conservation activities to protect the greater sage-grouse and its habitat will not adversely impact military readiness. A full Committee markup of the National Defense Authorization Act is scheduled for Wednesday.

The letters—from the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Readiness, the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force—explain that land use plans being implemented by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management help ensure the bird does not have to be listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and will not impact military training, operations, or readiness to any significant degree. They further explain that Integrated Natural Resources Management Plans (INRMPs) established for military installations are sufficient to meet conservation standards, and that the Services do not need new legislation with respect to greater sage grouse in order to carry out their missions.

“These letters put to bed once and for all the silly speculation that a few birds could hamstring the greatest fighting force in the history of the world,” Grijalva said. “They also prove that the ESA is a flexible and functional law, contrary to many of the complaints we hear from Committee Republicans. I hope these letters will sway the Members who may have been confused when voting for this harmful provision in last year’s defense bill.”

“These letters clearly demonstrate that federal land management plans to protect the sage brush habitat – one of the most imperiled ecosystems in North America – do not interfere with military readiness,” Rep. Niki Tsongas (MA-3), Ranking Member of the Federal Lands Subcommittee and a member of the Armed Services Committee said. “Efforts to overturn these plans would undermine the immense progress that is already underway to conserve sage bush habitat while simultaneously providing predictability for economic development. The unprecedented collaboration that brought about these plans was made possible thanks to partnerships between our federal land management agencies, eleven western states, sportsmen, ranchers, farmers, and conservationists. These responses from the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Air Force, the Army, and the Navy all demonstrate that arguments to halt this progress are not actually about military readiness but instead are an attempt to interfere with management of our nation’s public lands and undermine the Endangered Species Act.”

The provision in this year’s Chairman’s mark of the NDAA mirrors last year’s language to block a listing of the greater sage-grouse for 10 years and to prevent implementation of Forest Service and BLM land use management plans.