UPDATE 3-Greater sage grouse denied US Endangered Species Act protection

23 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

As other GOP leaders hail sage grouse being off endangered list, Utah politicians say it’s a ploy for control in West.

These provisions, which came in the form of numerous land-use plan amendments, were necessary to justify keeping sage grouse off the list of threatened species, federal wildlife officials said. CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — People in the state with the most sage grouse and energy development in their habitat mostly welcomed Tuesday’s announcement by the Interior Department that the birds don’t need protection under the federal Endangered Species Act.BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) – A cooperative effort to save a ground-dwelling bird has diverted it from possible extinction, federal officials declared Tuesday, as they sought to safeguard the habitat of a declining species while maintaining key pieces of the American West’s economy – oil and gas drilling and ranching.

The bird at the center of a historic conservation effort, whose health reflects the condition of a vast western sagebrush sea, is staying off the endangered species list but likely remaining a volatile issue for many environmentalists, business interests and politicians. The decision means Wyoming’s coal, oil, gas, uranium and livestock industries won’t have to live with the possibility of strict limits to their business out in the sagebrush country. “It provides a path forward for development. The decision was a rare one hailed by both environmentalists and the energy industry as good news – for both the bird and the Western states it calls home.

The Obama administration said the greater sage grouse does not require Endangered Species Act protections, walking a fine line with its assertion that economic development and preservation can coexist across the bird’s 11-state range. But critics from each side of the political spectrum quickly denounced the move, concentrating on new plans signed in conjunction with the decision that will guide the use of 67 million acres of public lands. Rob Bishop, who called it “a cynical ploy” and “a de facto listing.” “Don’t be fooled,” said Bishop, a Republican who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee. “With the stroke of a pen, the Obama administration’s oppressive land management plan is the same as a listing.

It doesn’t mean no limits: Along with announcing the decision, Interior unveiled land-use plans to protect sage grouse habitat on almost 28,000 square miles of U.S. Tuesday’s announcement reversed a 2010 finding that the bird was headed toward possible extinction as development cut into its vast but shrinking sagebrush habitat ranging from California to the Dakotas. Interior Department Secretary Sally Jewell credited the “extraordinary collaboration” of governors, ranchers, environmental groups, the extraction industry, and federal agencies. “This is truly a historic effort,” she said in a statement, describing the years-long deliberations as the largest conservation effort in US history. The sweeping conservation effort, which already has cost hundreds of millions of dollars, will “benefit Westerners and hundreds of species that call this iconic landscape home, while giving states, businesses and communities the certainty they need to plan for sustainable economic development.” National Audubon Society President and Chief Executive David Yarnold called the decision “a new lease on life” for the bird. “Finding a shared path forward beats scaring all the stakeholders into their corners. The Bureau of Land Management is putting the finishing touches on more than 90 land-use strategies to steer mining, drilling, and cattle grazing away from areas where sage grouse are likely to congregate.

That includes commitments of more than $750 million from government and outside interest groups to buy up conservation easements and restore the bird’s range. But experts say that it will be up to local officials and businesses to ensure that the dozens of different plans are giving the bird robust protection. Those local constituencies “found some space to chart a path of real balance, and those are the people who are going to be responsible for seeing this through to implementation,” says Mr. The federal holdings make up more than a third of the animal’s total range and do not include millions of acres of private land that will be restored or protected, agency officials said. Critically, the boundaries and restrictions in the federal priority habitat pretty well line up with Wyoming’s sage grouse “core area” strategy in place since 2010.

Saeger. “Those aren’t always the voices that capture the most attention,” he adds, “but they are the voices that get the most done, and hopefully that’s how the bulk of this progress continues to happen.” Tuesday’s announcement ends a years-long wait to see if the US Fish and Wildlife Service would list the sage grouse as an endangered species. Tuesday’s move will likely dilute a political liability for Democrats heading into the 2016 election season, since a sage grouse listing would have resulted in onerous land-use restrictions. It had until Sept. 30 to make a decision on the bird, which has seen its population has plummet from several million to between 200,000 and 500,000, according to federal officials. Over the last century, they lost roughly half their habitat to development, livestock grazing and an invasive grass that’s encouraging wildfires in the Great Basin of Nevada and adjoining states. Instead, top officials and politicians heralded what they hope is a new era of collaboration and trust among state, private and federal land managers to protect imperiled plants and animals.

While ESA protection can rescue a species from the brink of extinction, it often comes at a cost, with the local economy burdened by onerous emergency regulations. He said Interior’s “actions constitute the equivalent of a listing decision outside the normal process” and reiterated that his state was better positioned to manage its sage grouse population – though critics say Utah’s past actions contributed to the bird’s decline. But their numbers dwindled to less than 500,000 and their range has receded thanks to degradation of sagebrush habitat from grazing, mineral development and encroachment by conifer trees and cheat grass.

In July, Mead told Interior officials he worried the federal planning to help sage grouse played down potential restrictions on livestock grazing in Wyoming. But Erik Molvar, a wildlife biologist with WildEarth Guardians, argued these plans allow too many loopholes and exemptions to shield sage grouse from the impacts of energy development.

And it could be applied to other issues, as well. “This could be a model for how we look at recreation in central Idaho, or how we look at watershed management across state and federal lands in Colorado,” says Nada Culver, a senior director at The Wilderness Society. That year, the conservation collaboration that Jewell praised was launched by states, ranchers and industry executives with two objectives — protecting the grouse and restoring its habitat, and derailing a listing that could significantly limit future development.

A Wyoming-based representative of WildEarth Guardians, Erik Molvar, criticized the plans as inadequate to protect them from development, grazing and invasive weeds. Some energy companies say the plan is too restrictive. “We’ve seen things addressed federally or state by state, field office by field office,” says Ms. Department of Agriculture also has worked with ranchers to improve habitat by removing fences, uprooting invasive trees and buying conservation easements to keep the land from being altered. The decision rests on robust population numbers and effective state and local efforts that are working to protect the species, not the flawed federal land use plans that the secretary also released today.

As state wildlife agencies have shown, sage grouse populations have not only rebounded recently but are stable over the long-term,” said Kathleen Sgamma, governmental affairs director for the Western Energy Alliance. Conifer trees that were out of place in the habitat also grew, providing a new place for golden eagles, hawks and other birds of prey to perch to hunt and kill sage grouse.

Nevada lost 47 percent of its priority habitat, “resulting in a scattering of tiny and isolated … habitat fragments” for grouse populations that declined by more that 25 percent since 2007, the group claims.

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