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USFWS Bi-State Sage Grouse Move Lauded as Sign Protection, Development Can Coexist

Western governors lauded a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) decision on the bi-state sage grouse population as an indication that the bird can be protected more widely while oil/gas development is still encouraged.

The Western Governors' Association (WGA) praised a recent announcement by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell that the USFWS has determined that the bi-state population in California and Nevada no longer needs to be labeled as endangered.

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and California Natural Resources Agency Secretary John Laird joined Jewell in announcing the decision in Reno, NV, April 21. They said a key factor in the move was the development of a bi-state action plan, developed by a working group including both federal and state officials.

"The collaborative, science-based efforts in Nevada and California are proof that we can conserve sagebrush habitat across the West while we encourage sustainable economic development," Jewell said in making the announcement.

In its Federal Register notice, USFWS said a proposed rule to list the bird in the two western states as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and to designate critical habitat has been withdrawn, based on "our conclusion that the threats to the distinct population segment as identified in the proposed listing rule no longer are as significant as believed at the time of the publication of the proposed rule."

Based on what USFWS called "the best scientific and commercial data," the previous perceived threats no longer meet the ESA's definitions for either threatened or endangered species.

Last year, USFWS released a list of recommendations designed to help ensure conservation efforts by other agencies and stakeholders were effective and consistent in mitigating harm to the bird’s habitat (see Daily GPI, Sept. 10, 2014). More recently, the Gunnison sage grouse, whose habitat is in Utah and Colorado, was placed on the ESA list as threatened (see Daily GPI, Nov. 11, 2014).

Biologists estimate that between 2,500 and 9,000 of the ground-dwelling greater sage grouse inhabit about 4.5 million acres of high-desert sagebrush along the California-Nevada border. Nationally, the greater sage grouse is found in 11 western states (California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming).

WGA has a strategy to prevent the listing of the greater sage grouse across its 11-state western area. The bird was listed as "warranted but precluded" under ESA in 2010 and USFWS has committed to deciding whether it is warranted or not by Sept. 30 this year.

WGA recently released a 2014 Sage Grouse Inventory detailing state-by-state conservation plans, including past efforts in easements, leases and regulations; habitat improvements; research/education; and management tools and projects among others. It also outlined planned conservation efforts this year and beyond.

The document is aimed at demonstrating that the states' collaborative, voluntary conservation initiatives prove that "listing the bird as 'threatened' or 'endangered' under ESA is counterproductive and unnecessary," according to WGA.

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