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ENDANGERED SPECIES: Western Caucus seeks to head off sage grouse listing

March 4, 2010
In The News
Patrick Reis, E&E reporter
Adding the greater sage grouse to the Endangered Species List would place unnecessary but damaging restrictions on Western economies, a coalition of lawmakers told the Obama administration today.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will release its decision tomorrow on whether to protect the grouse under the Endangered Species Act.

In an eleventh-hour plea, the 36-member Congressional Western Caucus today sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar asking the administration not to list the bird.

"Placing the sage grouse on the Endangered Species List is unnecessary and flies in the face of the proven progress state wildlife agencies have made in the protection of the grouse and its habitat throughout the West," said Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah). "Such a listing will have a devastating impact on public land use, and will disproportionately hurt ranchers and energy producers whose livelihood depends upon access to the land."

The caucus argues that existing state conservation programs are the best tool to protect the grouse without impeding oil and gas drilling, grazing, mining and other development. An Interior spokeswoman said department officials are still reviewing the letter.

Sage grouse live in California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North and South Dakota, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

Federal protections could affect land-use policies on 80 million to 100 million acres, said Jon Marvel, executive director of the Western Watersheds Project, an Idaho-based group that supports an endangered species listing.

Mandatory federal protections will do what voluntary state programs cannot: stop the continued decline of a species whose population has fallen 90 percent from its historical levels, Marvel said.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has the option of declaring the grouse in need of federal protection, putting it on a waiting list while the agency addresses higher-priority species. If the agency recommends the grouse for federal protection, the decision would require final approval from Salazar.

An endangered species listing would require any group whose activities could potentially affect the grouse to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service and take measures to minimize any harm.

Greater sage grouse weigh between 4 and 7 pounds and are known for their elaborate mating dances.

Click here to read the caucus' letter to Salazar.