Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced Tuesday that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has completed a breeding bird density map for the greater sage grouse population with its sister agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service and the conservation group, the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.

The map identifies important rangewide focal areas having high-density sightings of greater sage grouse, a ground-dwelling bird that inhabits much of the U.S. West. The focal areas were determined by estimating the male's attendance on leks, the communal breeding grounds of the bird.

"The final map will give Interior a strong foundation to identify land uses that to do not compromise areas that are so critical to the greater sage grouse," Salazar said. Natural gas pipeline projects and oil and gas drilling have been delayed or canceled when they crossed paths with the breeding grounds of the sage grouse that are considered endangered.

In March Salazar said that while the sage grouse deserved to be designated as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), other species faced more imminent threats (see NGI, March 8). Instead the sage grouse was assigned a status as "warranted but precluded" and placed on a list of "candidate species" for future inclusion on the ESA. The status is to be reviewed annually.

"This mapping effort will help other federal and state agencies and the BLM as it carries out its multiple-use mandate [for public lands]. We are confident that all activities can be managed to be compatible with conservation of the sage grouse and its habitat," said BLM Director Bob Abbey.

"The greater sage grouse has historically inhabited millions of acres in the West, making it imperative that we work across political and administrative boundaries at a landscape scale to protect and restore sagebrush habitat," said Rowan Gould, acting director for FWS. "This map provides vital information that will enables us to work together to prevent further habitat fragmentation and undertake other conservation work to ensure the species' long-term survival."

Sage grouse are found in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, North and South Dakota, eastern California, Nevada, Utah, western Colorado, Wyoming, Alberta and Saskatchewan. The sage grouse population in the 11 western U.S. states has dropped from about 16 million a century ago to approximately 200,000 to 500,000 today.

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