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Wyoming Governor Updates Sage Grouse Protection

An updated version of Wyoming's Sage Grouse Core Area Protection Executive Order, which has been signed by Gov. Matt Mead, provides more flexibility for management of the area and adds language requiring continual reevaluation of the science and data for sage grouse management, Mead said Friday.

"This is not an action I take lightly or without reservation. However, because the listing of the greater sage grouse as a threatened or endangered species could cripple the economy of our state, I believe this executive order is needed," Mead said. "I believe this effort, which started almost a decade ago, represents the most significant conservation measure ever undertaken by a state in support of protecting a species."

The order replaces one signed last year by former Gov. Dave Freudenthal (see Daily GPI, Aug. 26, 2010). Changes in the revised order include allowing some land uses inside the core area if the activities will not cause declines in sage grouse populations and co-locating disturbances in areas that are already disturbed or are naturally unsuitable for sage grouse. The revision leaves the boundaries of the core area intact and clarifies that the order does not grant new regulatory powers to state agencies.

"All of the regulations used in the sage grouse core area already exist," Mead said. "The order does not create new regulation but clarifies how those regulations are used in the core area."

When he signed the order expanding sage grouse protections last year, Freudenthal said it would help keep the bird from being listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) while still offering opportunities for resource development. The listing of the greater sage grouse under the ESA "would have a significant adverse effect on the economy of the state of Wyoming, including the ability to generate revenue from state lands," the 2010 executive order said.

"There is an active effort to have the sage grouse listed, but this order reflects a state effort to develop a compromise acceptable to all sides," Mead said Friday.

Prior to the 2010 version of the order -- which was itself a revision of a 2008 executive order -- Wyoming officials had recommended protecting more land as core area habitat for the sage grouse (see Daily GPI, July 1, 2010). The recommendations closely followed a lawsuit filed by the Western Watersheds Project, the Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians concerning ESA protections for the sage grouse.

In March 2010 the Interior Department determined that the greater sage grouse would not be designated as an endangered species (see Daily GPI, March 8). Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said at the time that the bird deserved to be included on the ESA but said other species faced more imminent threats. 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.

BLM recently said it has cleared most of a more than two-year backlog for issuing oil and gas leases in Wyoming, but it said the issuance of 222 parcels would be deferred pending four resource management plan revisions at the Buffalo, Cody, Lander and Worland field offices, and a proposed sage grouse amendment, which isn't expected to be completed until late next year (see Daily GPI, April 4).

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

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