UPDATE 2-Imperiled sage grouse denied US Endangered Species Act protection

23 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Mead: Sage grouse announcement affirms Wyoming efforts.

The White House is announcing Tuesday that it will not offer federal protection for the greater sage grouse, an iconic ground-dwelling bird at the forefront of a long-burning environmental debate. The Department of the Interior said Tuesday that the chicken-sized grouse – one of the most recognizable species of the West – did not meet the required standard to be listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

Due to ranching, gas drilling, mineral mining, and wildfires on its habitat, the grouse population has fallen from several million to about 200,000, reports The Christian Science Monitor. Tuesday’s announcement signals that the Obama administration believes it has struck a balance to save the widespread, ground-dwelling birds from extinction without crippling the West’s economy.

Federal protections could have brought much more sweeping restrictions on oil and gas drilling, grazing and other human activities from California to the Dakotas. She was joined by a group of western governors and federal and state officials. “Today we have proven we can take smart science-based forward-looking steps,” said Jewell, who said it was a “historic effort” of collaboration. Choosing to not list the bird under the Act is a nod to the unprecedented cooperation among “groups that typically are at one another’s throats, from federal agencies to conservationists to governors to landowners,” reported the Monitor’s Amanda Paulson in June. Mead says diverse interests worked together ahead of Tuesday’s Interior Department announcement that endangered species protections for sage grouse aren’t needed.

But environmentalists say that by not listing the sage grouse, the government has caved to political pressure, from industries that argue there are billions of dollars to be lost in economic activity. They’ve insisted on flexibility in pressing for state-led voluntary conservation, warning federal intervention would put unprecedented limits on people — stifling economic development. Colorado leaders last week asked Fish and Wildlife officials to approve a state-run “habitat exchange” to let drillers, ranchers, builders and others offset harm to grouse habitat by paying for efforts to improve habitat at other locations. Other states have proposed similar exchanges in a concerted push to avert a federal listing. “The most significant change since 2010 is that both state and federal partners have established regulatory plans that have addressed the primary threat, which was the loss and fragmentation of habitat,” Frazer said.

State wildlife agencies focus on the most visible grouse: males puffing their chests and making blooping sounds in sunrise mating dances on communal mating sites, called leks. They’ve mapped habitat where wildfire is considered a primary threat to survival of the bird and are working to reduce invasive cheatgrass that makes habitat vulnerable to catastrophic wildfire.

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