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FWS Releases Recommendations to Protect Greater Sage-Grouse

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has released a list of recommendations designed to help ensure conservation efforts by other agencies and stakeholders are effective and consistent in mitigating any impacts to the habitat of the greater sage-grouse.

In a 30-page document, FWS outlined a series of factors that it would take into consideration when reviewing others' conservation plans. The "Range-Wide Mitigation Framework," which was released last Thursday, also provides mitigation standards that can be used as a template for compensatory mitigation practices and programs.

"The Framework provides recommendations, not requirements," FWS said. "There is no one right or correct design for a mitigation program. Rather, this guidance is intended to encourage consistency across the range and help our many partners develop or strengthen mitigation programs that simultaneously conserve sage-grouse while maintaining or enhancing economic opportunities throughout the sage-grouse range."

According to the FWS, a successful sage-grouse conservation program should be "designed to result in net overall positive outcomes" for the bird, and should incorporate existing regional, state and local regulations when appropriate. Conservation programs should also be fair and consistent, and provide economic incentives for the industry and private landowners to protect the sage-grouse.

The mitigation standards identified by FWS include taking action in locations deemed most likely to be successful in compensating for losses to sage-grouse habitat; establishing an appropriate time frame for biological conditions to recover; setting up compensatory efforts that exceed federal, state and local regulations; and creating actions believed most likely to succeed.

The FWS also said mitigation efforts should be able to remain in effect for their intended duration, and their success should be measured using quantifiable methods based on sound science.

Last July, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced a spending bill that would have, among other things, barred the Secretary of the Department of Interior from using the Endangered Species Act (ESA) as cover to either write or issue rules governing the greater sage-grouse (see Daily GPIJuly 9). One month later, FWS began a formal process to review the status of the greater sage-grouse under the ESA and asked state and federal agencies, tribes, industry representatives and conservation groups to submit their observations of the bird's population.

The greater sage-grouse was a candidate for protection under the ESA in 2010, but following a court settlement in 2011 the agency agreed to hold off on making a decision on whether to list the bird by Sept. 30, 2015 (see Daily GPIDec. 30, 2011).

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