Noting that it wants to give the public an adequate opportunity to review and comment, the Interior Department’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) said Wednesday that it is extending the public comment period on two proposed rules: to list as endangered the gunnison sage grouse, which is found south of the Colorado River in Colorado and Utah, and to designate 1.7 million acres of critical habitat for the bird under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
While the proposed rules originally had 60-day comment periods that expired Tuesday, the FWS said it received “several requests from the public” to extend the comment periods on both proposed sage grouse rules. As a result, the agency will now accept comments on both proposed rules until April 2.
The sage grouse population has been on the decline across the West, and states and other federal agencies have stepped up their efforts to search for a way for development, including oil and natural gas drilling, to coexist with the bird.
Last week the House Natural Resources Committee sent a letter to the Interior Department expressing concern about the scientific integrity of and the imposition of what it said were arbitrary deadlines on a decision to potentially list the sage grouse under the ESA (see Daily GPI, March 11). The letter, which was addressed to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and FWS Director Daniel M. Ashe, calls for the department to turn over detailed documents and information related to the science supporting the sage grouse listing under the ESA, the planning strategies for sage grouse conservation, and the Obama administration’s 2011 closed-door, multi-species ESA settlement with multiple groups.
“This potential listing of the sage grouse could restrict grazing, farming, mining and energy production on as much as 160 million acres throughout 11 western states,” wrote Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA).
The agency said it intends to issue a final determination on the two rules by Sept. 30. Comments can be filed electronically at www.regulations.gov. In the search box, enter the appropriate docket number (FWS-R6-ES-2012-0108) for the proposed endangered status for the gunnison sage grouse; or (FWS-R6-ES-2011-0111) for the proposed designation of critical habitat for the gunnison sage grouse. Comments also can be mailed or hand-delivered to FWS headquarters in Arlington, VA.
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