FWS Greater Sage-Grouse Determination Is Wake-Up Call to Avoid ESA Listing

March 5, 2010

EDF, Energy Producers, Ranchers Vow to Cooperate to Recover Western Species

WASHINGTON, March 5 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — The determination by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) today that listing the greater sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is warranted, but precluded for now, confirms that some of America’s most treasured landscapes and game species are in trouble. It is a wake-up call for landowners, industry, and conservationists to work together to reverse the decline of the bird and the land it inhabits. Greater sage-grouse currently occur in only 11 western states: California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming (see photo of greater sage-grouse at: www.edf.org/content_images/GreaterSageGrouse.jpg).

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“An endangered species listing is no one’s first choice as a tool to fix broken landscapes,” said Ted Toombs, Rocky Mountain Regional Director of the Center for Conservation Incentives at Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and a member of several state technical committees for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). “It is really a last resort option to keep species from going extinct.”

“The first, best option to protect species is for conservationists, farmers, ranchers, energy companies, the recreation industry, and other stakeholders to work together on habitat conservation and restoration, so that an endangered species listing can be avoided,” Toombs added. “Many western industries — including tourism, hunting and livestock — depend on the same thing as this iconic bird: healthy, productive, open lands.”

According to FWS, while the bird’s decline warrants listing, it must be delayed due to the backlog of other species that are already candidates for ESA listing. The decision means that the status of the greater sage-grouse will be evaluated every 12 months along with the status of the 279 other ESA candidate species. Making the greater sage-grouse a candidate species allows agencies like the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service to treat the bird as if it were an endangered species, and requires state and federal land management agencies to consult with FWS whenever a proposed development would encroach upon greater sage-grouse habitat. If the status of the greater sage-grouse is more perilous next year or in subsequent years, FWS will be more likely to formally list the bird under the ESA. When a species is formally proposed for listing, the endangered species designation process lasts about a year. While a species remains a candidate for listing, it still is possible to keep it off of the endangered species list if it shows recovery progress.

“We proactively take steps to protect wildlife, both in terms of the Best Management Practices we employ and by engaging third party experts to better understand, address and minimize impacts to wildlife,” said Byron Gale, vice president of environment, health and safety for EnCana Oil and Gas (USA), which uses the latest available research on greater sage-grouse to mitigate the impacts of drilling and has committed $21.5 million to the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust to protect wildlife habitat and other natural resources. “We pride ourselves on the numerous steps we have taken to protect the greater sage-grouse and other species of wildlife that share the land and our development sites. We are committed to doing our part to recover the greater sage-grouse and continuing our proud tradition of responsible resource development.”

“We are committed to implementing science-based conservation measures that reduce or eliminate threats to sage-grouse and at the same time allow for responsible renewable energy development in western states,” said Denise Bode, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), which supports research aimed at defining the best possible strategies for conserving wildlife species. “AWEA and the wind industry have shown their commitment to wildlife conservation by working with such collaborative efforts as the American Wind Wildlife Institute, the Bats & Wind Energy Cooperative and the recently created Sage Grouse Research Collaborative.”

“I know from experience that cooperative conservation projects at large scales can help livestock producers protect and recover critical habitats for species at risk,” said Leo Barthelmess, a rancher in Malta, Montana and founding member of the Ranchers Stewardship Alliance, which works collaboratively with agencies, private landowners, non-governmental organizations and many other partners to conserve sage-grouse habitat and the livestock community across a multi-million acre landscape in eastern Montana. “This is just one example of the livestock industry stepping up to help avert listing.”

To encourage and support cooperative efforts to help the greater sage-grouse recover, EDF recommends that the government:

  1. Expand its Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances (CCAAs) program to help save the greater sage-grouse. CCAAs protect landowners who voluntarily adopt habitat restoration measures from future land use regulations in the case that this game bird is granted endangered status, with the goal of avoiding endangered species listing. However, if the species is listed in the future, the landowner is absolved of any obligations beyond the CCAA. Last month, FWS negotiated the first CCAA to protect the greater sage-grouse in the nation with landowners in southwest Idaho and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. FWS is negotiating similar pacts elsewhere in Idaho, Wyoming and other western states inhabited by ESA candidate species.
  2. Use the Montana NCRS Greater Sage-Grouse Habitat Conservation Strategy as a model for other states to provide ranchers economic support to participate in cooperative, scientifically-based, on-the-ground conservation efforts for the greater sage-grouse.

The FWS determination is based upon the latest scientific information from the U.S. Geological Society (USGS) published in Studies in Avian Biology that details sage-grouse population declines, habitat loss and fragmentation of sagebrush ecosystems resulting from the cumulative effects of a variety of causes (see USGS fact sheet on greater sage-grouse at: www.edf.org/documents/10845_SAGRBriefingPaper1.pdf).

Environmental Defense Fund, a leading national nonprofit organization, represents more than 700,000 members. Since 1967, Environmental Defense Fund has linked science, economics, law and innovative private-sector partnerships to create breakthrough solutions to the most serious environmental problems. For more information, visit www.edf.org.

    Sean Crowley, 202.550-6524-c, scrowley@edf.org
    Ted Toombs, (303) 447-7210-w, ttoombs@edf.org

SOURCE Environmental Defense Fund

Source: newswire

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