Utah Gov. Gary Herbert on Wednesday said his state has completed a conservation plan to preserve greater sage grouse in his state, protecting more than 90% of the state’s species through a combination of incentives and “reasonable” regulation.

The subject of mitigation debates and public hearings for years, the sage grouse has been a concern for state and federal officials in energy resource-rich western states, such as Wyoming and Colorado, in addition to Utah.

Last year, Herbert established a group to address the concerns for the large ground-dwelling birds. The group included county commissioners, federal land managing agencies, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Utah’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Department of Agriculture and Food, the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA), and representatives from the energy, recreational and conservation sectors.

Utah now has a plan designed to “protect high-quality habitat, enhance impaired habitat and restore converted habitat as a result of the working groups efforts dating back more than a year.” Herbert said the plan represents the coming together of “many diverse interests” to address the sage grouse challenges. “The direction the plan provides will maintain or increase the number of sage grouse in Utah, while allowing economic development to continue,” he said.

The plan states that it is designed to eliminate threats to the species and eliminate the need for the sage grouse being listed as an endangered species. In 2010, the USFWS began a process to place the species on the endangered list, and it is under court order to review that finding by 2015.

Utah seeks to protect both the birds and its economy, and thus the plan includes “incentive-based programs” for private, local government and SITLA lands, along with “reasonable and cooperative” regulatory programs on other state and federally managed lands.

“Implementation of the plan will require a cooperative effort among local, state and federal agencies, working in concert with private interests,” the governor’s office said.

DNR sage grouse coordinator Alan Clark said there was no consensus on the plan’s recommendations. “Despite their differences, though, the group developed a sound and balanced approach,” he said.

Annual goals of the plan are:

“The plan builds upon earlier efforts of state agencies to protect sage grouse,” the governor’s office said. An initial strategic plan was adopted in 2003, and that was revised in 2009.

Currently, the state supports about 8% of the total range-wide population of greater sage grouse distributed through the northern, western and central parts of Utah. The plan acknowledged that the state has a “highly discontinuous habitat pattern,” partly due to natural topography in the state and also because of land-use activities.

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