Sage grouse will not be listed as endangered species

By Whitney Forman-Cook

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Sept. 22, 2015 - Interior Secretary Sally Jewell Tuesday confirmed what many have speculated: The sage grouse will not receive federal protections under the Endangered Species Act.

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In a video announcement, Jewell said the decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service not to list the bird as endangered “marked a milestone for conservation in America” and was made possible by “an unprecedented effort by dozens of partners across” across 11 Western states. She also made the same announcement in a ceremony in Colorado.

Collin O'Mara, the CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, said in a statement that the decision “follows years of work by private landowners, ranchers, sportsmen, conservationists, industry, and state and federal agencies to develop achievable conservation plans based upon sound science.”

It's a good day for all sportsmen and outdoor enthusiasts,” O'Mara said.

Steve Williams, the president of the Wildlife Management Institute and former director of FWS, agreed, saying “the work to benefit sage grouse over the last five years has been the greatest landscape-scale conservation effort undertaken in modern times.”

But the effort isn't over yet, Whit Fosburgh, the president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership said in a statement: “It is critical that state and federal agencies enforce the full implementation of their plans and that we continue to oppose congressional attempts to weaken them.”

Some of those attempts have been led by the House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop, R-Utah, who has long been a proponent of rolling back protections for the sage grouse and other species. In a statement, he called the decision not to list “a cynical ploy.”

“The Obama administration's oppressive land management plan is the same as a listing,” he said. “The new command-and-control federal plan will not help the bird, but it will control the West, which is the real goal of the Obama administration.”

Indeed, the sage grouse will still be protected on federally owned land through 14 land use management plans penned by the DOI's Bureau of Land Management and the USDA's Forest Service. Land use restrictions in the plans will apply to approximately 66 million acres and limit energy extraction and mining activities in critical habitat areas.

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, which represents 60 rural electric cooperatives within the sage grouse's range, greeted the announcement with “relief.” Kirk Johnson, the group's senior vice president of governmental affairs said the decision “is a win for partnership, pragmatism and plumage.”

The Western Energy Alliance, although pleased with the no-listing decision, said the Interior Department “took the wrong path to get there” and called the federal land use plans “flawed” and “top-down.”

Sage grouse experts estimate that the bird's population has dwindled by as much as 90 percent since the 1800s due to habitat destruction - as the result of longer, hotter fire seasons and invasive species - as well as habitat fragmentation, caused by development, Jewell said.

“Climate change and an expanding (human) population, the stresses on our land, water and wildlife aren't going away,” Jewell continued. “But I'm optimistic that we have shown that epic collaboration across a landscape, guided by sound science is truly the future of American conservation.”

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the decision shows “that voluntary efforts joining the resources of private landowners, federal and state agencies, and partner organizations can help drive landscape-level conservation that is good for sage-grouse, ranching operations, and rural communities.”

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