March 6, 2010

Sage Grouse Does Not Make Endangered List

On Friday, the Interior Department said that it does not plan to list the sage grouse as endangered or threatened, but will classify the bird amongst other species that are candidates for federal protection.

This news is good for the wind energy and oil and gas industries, which would have faced tighter restrictions if the bird were listed.

Ken Salazar, Interior Secretary, said the listing is warranted but precluded by other species that are in greater danger.

Some Western states have been fighting for years to prevent a sage grouse listing so they would be able to map the birds' sagebrush habitat.

The sage grouse currently inhabits about half of their historical range.  The chicken-sized brown bird occupies parts of Wyoming, Nevada, Montana, Oregon and Idaho, along with smaller areas in Colorado, Utah, California, Washington, South Dakota and western Canada.

Large areas of sage grouse habitat are prime locations for natural gas development, which has boomed in recent years.  The birds are challenged by cheatgrass in Nevada, which frequently causes wildfires that burn up native sagebrush.

"The sage grouse's decline reflects the extent to which open land in the West has been developed in the last century," Salazar said in a release. "This development has provided important benefits, but we must find common sense ways of protecting, restoring, and reconnecting the Western lands that are most important to the species' survival."

He said that voluntary conservation, combined with federal funding and technical help, can help those efforts.

Western Watersheds Project, an Idaho group, helped discover the sage grouse finding from a lawsuit filed in 2006.  In 2007, a federal judge in Boise, Idaho decided that political pressure tainted an earlier decision not to list the sage grouse.