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Western Governors Seek Jewell's Help on Sage Grouse

Governors of western states have asked for clarification from U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on the federal agency's efforts to save the greater sage grouse in the face of congressional action to delay a federal listing decision on the bird.

A letter from the Western Governors' Association (WGA) was sent Friday seeking Jewell's thoughts on when a final decision will be made on whether to list the greater sage grouse for protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The $1.1 trillion budget bill (HR 83) passed by Congress and signed by President Obama in December prohibits the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) from writing or issuing a rule to list the greater sage grouse as threatened or endangered under ESA, and the governors said the Interior Department has interpreted the law to allow all work leading up to a listing decision.

Governors in 11 western states have been working on state-federal measures for protecting the greater sage grouse, and in the Utah-Colorado area the Gunnison sage grouse, to avoid an ESA listing (see Daily GPI, Nov. 24, 2014).

"We have invested countless hours and millions of dollars in habitat conservation, mapping and monitoring," said Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead in the WGA letter to Jewell. "We consider the long-term survival of the greater sage grouse a key responsibility," said the pair, who co-chair WGA's sage grouse task force.

They asked Jewell about the current schedule for completing the greater sage grouse listing determination, and what funding was provided in the latest congressional spending authorization for greater sage grouse conservation.

"In particular, how will the Bureau of Land Management [BLM] use $15 million appropriated to the agency?" Hickenlooper and Mead asked Jewell.

The governors said the western states are currently in "the largest effort ever" to conserve a species and its habitat, and they support a "constructive process" that will result in "a reasonable course of action" by BLM and FWS, along with state and private landowners.

In recent weeks, Jewell has said that her agency wants to avoid an endangered listing for the sage grouse, and Interior officials have downplayed the impact from the congressional budget bill (see Daily GPI, Dec. 9, 2014; Dec. 12, 2014).

 "We want to create an environment where a listing is not warranted," Jewell told the winter meeting of the WGA in Las Vegas last month. "We're in a period of epic collaboration. That's what is happening for sage grouse across the 11 states. We have incredible momentum so we can’t stop now; we need to get across the finish line."

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