Eleven western states face a deadline to show the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service local efforts to protect the greater sage grouse have been effective and federal intervention is unwarranted.
States and Native American tribes have until December 31 to submit information concerning the species’ population and habitat status. The decision on whether to place the sage grouse on the endangered species list is expected by September 2015.
States Respond to Concern
Native sage grouse inhabit 165 million acres of sagebrush habitat.
John Harja, a senior policy analyst at the Utah’s Public Lands Policy Coordination Office, said the state has been working to protect sage grouse since 1996. In February 2013 the state assembled and implemented a comprehensive plan.
Harja said Utah successfully reached its objectives in the very first year. However, Theodore Stein, spokesperson for USFWS, said the Service may still determine the bird warrants listing unless it can determine the sage grouse is not currently facing extinction nor likely to face it in the foreseeable future.
“The Conservation Plan envisions reasonable regulations on BLM and FS lands, and incentive-based regulations on private lands,” Harja said.
Sage grouse populations, more than 70 percent of which reside on public lands, have declined by 30 percent since 1985. Reasons for the species’ decline include loss of habitat, wildfires, invasive species, grazing, urbanization, and oil and gas development.
Voluntary Efforts Underway
Stein calls the partnership between FWS and acting participants a “remarkable and historic campaign” to address the threats facing the greater sage grouse.
One such effort, the Sage Grouse Initiative funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service, has successfully partnered with 950 ranchers to adopt grazing and management strategies that aid both the sage grouse and cattle, said Stein.
“With the support of SGI, more than 950 ranchers have enrolled in grouse-friendly management agreements, including new grazing systems that increase hiding cover for nesting birds on 2.6 million acres, conservation easements that reduce threats on 381,000-plus acres, and removal of invading conifers to restore historic sagebrush on 276,000 acres,” Stein said.
Utah will suffer economically if the sage grouse is listed as endangered, Harja said. “The economic impacts are hard to quantify, but upwards of $52 billion is possible, largely in the oil and gas industry, if a listing occurs,” Harja said.
Alyssa Carducci ([email protected]) writes from Tampa, Florida.