WASHINGTON, April 21, 2015 – Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced today that the greater sage-grouse population in California and Nevada is sufficient enough that the bird doesn’t need listing as a protected species in the bi-state region under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Jewell made the announcement at a press conference in Reno, Nevada, where she was joined by Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, USDA Under Secretary Robert Bonnie, California Natural Resources Agency Secretary John Laird, and local and state partners.

“Thanks in large part to the extraordinary efforts of all the partners in the working group to address threats to greater sage-grouse and its habitat in the Bi-State area, our biologists have determined that this population no longer needs ESA protection,” said Jewell. “What’s more, the collaborative, science-based efforts in Nevada and California are proof that we can conserve sagebrush habitat across the West while we encourage sustainable economic development.”

Jewell called the 15-year collaborative effort to preserve the bird’s habitat among federal, state and private partners in the so-called Bi-State Local Area Working Group a “conservation success story.”

The working group members include private landowners in California and Nevada, Nevada Department of Wildlife, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Nevada Division of Forestry, California State Parks, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, nongovernmental organizations such as Nevada Wildlife Federation, Washoe Tribe of California and Nevada, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Geological Survey, Department of Defense and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Along with withdrawing the listing proposal, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is also withdrawing the proposed designation of critical habitat for the sage-grouse.

FWS is concurrently conducting a separate status review for the greater sage-grouse across its 11-state western range. In 2010, it determined the bird warranted protection but that action was precluded by higher priorities. A determination on whether the species still requires protection is due by Sept. 30.

In a news release, USDA said the “deteriorating health of the greater sage-grouse and Western sagebrush landscapes has sparked an unprecedented and proactive partnership across 11 states to conserve the uniquely American habitat that supports diverse wildlife, outdoor recreation, and ranching and other traditional land uses that form the cornerstone of the Western way of life.”

Earlier this month, the Western Governors’ Association released a report that highlighted voluntary efforts in the 11 states to conserve sage-grouse habitat in an attempt to prevent a federal ESA listing.

The greater sage-grouse’s habitat is spread over 186 million acres in those states. FWS estimates the fowl’s population has declined 30 percent in the last three decades.

An endangered species listing could affect a number of energy-related activities in impacted states, including oil and well drilling, mining, placement of new electric transmission lines and sites for renewable energy projects. However, a report commissioned by Western Values Project in the fall of 2014 found that from 73 percent to 81 percent of areas with medium to high potential for energy development are outside the sage grouse’s habitat.

“The same regulatory assurances and proactive voluntary measures that have helped prevent the listing of this bi-state population are exactly what we need in the rest of the sage-grouse’s range,” Steve Williams, president of the Wildlife Management Institute and former director of FWS, said in a press release from the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP).

“Ultimately, the decision to list the range-wide population will end up in a federal court,” Williams said, adding that unless the state and federal authorities can defend their plans and assurances, “a judge may rule that the sage grouse must be listed.”

TRCP says that almost half of the nation’s remaining sage grouse habitat is on federal public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management, and conservation measures in that agency’s new resource management plans will likely carry a lot of weight in the September decision. It says private and state lands are also vital to the birds’ future, and the ESA listing decision will hinge on strong state conservation plans.

Miles Moretti, president and CEO of the Mule Deer Foundation, calls today’s announcement “good news for this population of sage grouse and all the stakeholders who rolled up their sleeves and demonstrated that the states can work with the federal government to achieve a positive outcome.”

[Watching for stories about threatened species? Sign up for an Agri-Pulse four-week free trial subscription to stay on top of this and other ag, rural policy and energy issues.] 

With momentum gained in saving the species, TRCP President Whit Fosburgh says, “Governors simply cannot take their foot off the gas now.”

“They must finalize solid plans for their states and support federal plans in order to avoid a listing later this fall,” Fosburgh says. “We need their leadership to embrace change, conservation, and a newly defined future for sagebrush ecosystems.”

“The sagebrush habitat that is home to the greater sage-grouse embodies the heart and soul of the American West – especially for sportsmen who depend on it for a quality hunting and angling experience,” said J.R. Young, co-chair of the California chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. “Not only do sportsmen enjoy hunting the sage-grouse, but sagebrush habitats are home to all sorts of species that have directly benefited from the collaborative work of multiple agencies and landowners to protect sagebrush habitat, including big game animals like the mule deer, pronghorn, and elk.”

Young called today’s announcement “great news for our 11-state, range-wide efforts to keep sagebrush habitats healthy and open to hunters.”

For more information from the USDA on this conservation effort, see a fact sheet, video and USDA Under Secretary Robert Bonnie’s blog post.


For more news, go to www.agri-pulse.com.