Sage Grouse, warrented precluded
After a one-week delay, on March 5 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released the much-anticipated statement on whether or not the sage grouse would be listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
“Based on new science, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has determined the sage grouse does warrant the protection of the Endangered Species Act,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar in the news conference announcing the official status as “warranted but precluded.”
“The decision we’re announcing and actions we’ll take concerning the sage grouse are based on fundamental facts of the condition of the sage grouse,” he told his audience, adding there were 38 groups of scientists involved from various realms of research.
Noting the 90 percent decline in populations from a century ago, and a 50 percent loss in habitat from historic levels, and the fragmentation of the remaining habitat, Salazar said the bird is “in peril.”
Department of the Interior Assistant Director Tom Strickland added that, according to the “very best science,” the sage grouse does qualify for the protection of the ESA, but that it’s not proposed for listing at this time because of the need to address “higher priority” species.
Unsatisfied with the announcement, the environmental group Western Watersheds Project has already filed litigation in federal district court in Boise, Idaho, challenging the “precluded” part of the finding.
However, Strickland emphasized, “The greater sage grouse population as a whole remains at a sufficient level, with broad enough distribution, that immediate threat of extinction is low.”
WWP Executive Director Jon Marvel says the Obama administration has “violated the law” in not listing the sage grouse.
However, Salazar recognized the states have led the way in developing “the right kind of strategies” to preserve the sage grouse.
“There have been state conservation efforts in Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and others where we’ve seen the sage grouse populations stable over the last decade,” said Salazar, adding FWS will “expand the support for local and state conservation efforts.”
“Management of species will continue to be a state responsibility,” said Strickland, although the FWS will annually review the status of the sage grouse.”
“Placing sage grouse on the candidate list will open access to additional management resources,” said Strickland. “We’ll continue to work with and expand the tools we have with Candidate Conservation Agreements and other conservation efforts, working with private landowners, states and sister federal agencies.”
“The BLM’s expanded efforts to protect sage grouse will ensure energy production, recreational access and other uses, including ranching and grazing, will continue in ways that will limit impacts on the bird,” Salazar continued, adding that siting renewable energy away from core sage grouse habitats will be a priority.
“We really need to continue to develop energy resources,” said Strickland, after mentioning the potential affects on sage grouse of both conventional and renewable energy development in the West. “Without good planning, energy can impact sage grouse and we’ll put an emphasis on ‘smart from the start’ planning in advance to avoid impacts on the front end.”
“Learning what’s most effective will guide future conservation efforts,” said Strickland, mentioning the 2006 partnership with the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) to develop the Greater Sage Grouse Comprehensive Conservation Strategy.
BLM Director Bob Abbey added his agency is coordinating with state fish and wildlife agencies to develop a range-wide key habitat map, which would identify crucial core habitat in each of the Western states.
“In Wyoming, Governor Freudenthal made sage grouse a priority, and it’s important to maintain the species in the state,” said Strickland in the news conference. “Wyoming has done that on their own, without pressure from the Act, and they’re to be commended.”
“At the end of the day, my hope is that, with smart action in partnership with states and private landowners, we will never have to list sage grouse as a threatened and endangered species,” said Salazar.
“We have a window of at least several years before we’d reach the point in time where listing the sage grouse would be imminent,” said Strickland. “And with collaborative efforts, we could avoid ever listing the sage grouse.”