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July 03, 2014 7:28 am

Fish and Wildlife doesn’t wish to list sage grouse

Written by Gib Mathers

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has no desire to place greater sage grouse on the Endangered Species List. However, if the bird is listed it will be across the West, not just where the population is lowest. ‘We are trying to do everything we can to head off listing,’ said Steve Guertin, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service deputy director. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has no desire to place greater sage grouse on the Endangered Species List. However, if the bird is listed it will be across the West, not just where the population is lowest. ‘We are trying to do everything we can to head off listing,’ said Steve Guertin, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service deputy director. Photo courtesy Wyoming Game and Fish Department

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service does not want to place greater sage grouse on the Endangered Species List, but the service must make a decision next year.

The service wants to prevent listing by protecting its habitat and so increase the sage grouse population.

“We are trying to do everything we can to head off listing,” said Steve Guertin, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service deputy director.

Guertin was speaking at the Wildlife and Hunting Heritage Conservation Council summer meeting in Cody June 17. If greater sage grouse are listed it will be across the entire West, not just in states where the population is the lowest.

“We all go together or we all don’t go together,” Guertin said. “I just want to clarify that for everybody.”

Wyoming has 38 percent of the West’s greater sage grouse population.

“Montana ranks only No. 2 to Wyoming in sage grouse abundance,” said Dave Naugle, science adviser for the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Still, the population occupying 11 western states is struggling.

The number of sage grouse in the West has plummeted 90 percent in the last century, according to a June 27 Washington Post article. Wyoming reported a decline from more than 44,000 male birds in 2006 to just 18,000 in 2013, after years of rapid development in grouse habitat.

Based on past experience, the service does not want to get into a legal challenge by listing greater sage grouse in one state but not another as it did with wolves and other species, Guertin said.

A judge struck down the service’s decision to remove wolves from federal protections in Montana and Idaho and not Wyoming in 2010. U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy put wolves back on the list, ruling that Montana and Idaho couldn’t have wolf management authority and not Wyoming.

Greater sage grouse have been the subject of court decisions too.

In 1999, the service received eight petitions to list sage grouse. In 2005, the service found listing was not warranted. In 2007, the not-warranted decision was remanded in federal court. In 2010 listing was warranted, but precluded. In 2011, the U.S. District Court ordered the service to reach a decision by September 2015.

“That’s not even a year and a half away,” Guertin said.

Whatever decision the service makes for greater sage grouse, it will be based on science, Guertin said.

If sage grouse are listed, the birds could be designated as threatened or endangered. The latter designation would entail more inflexible regulations, Guertin said.

“‘Endangered species’ is one that is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range. A ‘threatened species’ is one that is likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range,” according to the service.

Once a species becomes listed as “endangered” or “threatened,” it receives special protections by the federal government.  Animals are protected from “take,” meaning they can’t be harassed, harmed, pursued, hunted, shot, wounded, killed in a trap, captured or collected, according to the National Wildlife Federation’s interpretation of the ESA.

“We’ll do everything we can to put in flexible tools for sage grouse,” Guertin said.

The Bureau of Land Management and the state of Wyoming will work to protect more than 2 million acres of habitat occupied by the greater sage grouse under an agreement announced last week that could mark a turning point in the relationship between Western states and the federal government, according to the Washington Post.

The agreement, under which the bureau will adopt a Wyoming-crafted plan to conserve sage grouse habitat, represents the first state-federal deal to protect millions of acres of land from development in hopes of keeping the greater sage grouse off the endangered species list.

But conservationists were quick to criticize a deal they said handed too much land to developers without going far enough to protect the species, according to the Post report.

1 Comment

  • Comment Link July 05, 2014 1:05 pm posted by Duane Short

    What part of the following facts is so hard to understand?

    "...the population occupying 11 western states is struggling.
    The number of sage grouse in the West has plummeted 90 percent in the last century. Wyoming reported a decline from more than 44,000 male birds in 2006 to just 18,000 in 2013, after years of rapid development in grouse habitat."

    Change the subject to reflect one's financial portfolio or the economy in general and people would be screaming bloody murder, "Somebody help me, my money is going extinct and quickly!"

    Species, worldwide, are disappearing 1,000 to 10,000 times faster than the historical rate.

    The only reason the bird is not listed already is that politicians are fighting only for those who can vote for them or buy them votes. It's time we let science and independent make decisions about our wildlife, water, air and the health of our natural world.

    Otherwise, politicians will lead us straight down into a gas well, mineshaft or into a world where only humans thrive.... a lonely, lonely world. A world so miserably out of balance we will end up turning on each other.

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