Government biologists late last week were given more time to determine whether to list the greater sage grouse as threatened or endangered in 11 western states.

In late 2007 an Idaho district judge said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) had ignored the best available science concerning sage grouse habitat and ordered the agency to reconsider a 2005 decision not to list the bird under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) (see Daily GPI, Dec. 6, 2007).

FWS biologists had been expected to render their determination about the bird this summer, but the decision now is not expected before February. If sage grouse ultimately is listed under the ESA, the bird’s status could curb natural gas and oil drilling, impact grazing rules and slow development across parts of the U.S. West.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service is well aware of the significance of this decision, because of its potential impact on a broad area and many activities within that broad area,” said Michael Bean, senior adviser to Assistant Secretary of Interior Tom Strickland. Bean formerly worked as counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund, and he has been involved in sage grouse issues.

The federal Bureau of Land Management and affected western states have stepped up protections for the sage grouse in recent years. However, the ultimate FWS ruling could impact future drilling and production efforts in certain areas of oil and gas basins across the West.

A variety of factors has impacted sage grouse, including expanded development across the West, according to wildlife experts. In recent years advocates have singled out energy drilling practices for allegedly destroying habitat in the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana, along with the Roan Plateau in Colorado and in the Green River Basin in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming.

Recent government estimates indicate there are between 100,000 and 500,000 sage grouse across its 11-state range.

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