Coalition of Environmentalists Petition for Sharp-tailed Grouse Protection
ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico Environmentalists asking for federal protection of the Columbian sharp-tailed grouse say the bird is in danger of becoming extinct, in part because its native habitat across the West is being lost to livestock grazing and agriculture.
In a petition filed Oct. 14, a coalition of environmentalists asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the grouse under the Endangered Species Act.
The groups, led by Santa Fe, New Mexicobased Forest Guardians, argue that what was once the most abundant gallinaceous bird in the Intermountain West has been reduced to a population of less than 60,000. Gallinaceous birds nest on the ground and include turkeys, chickens and pheasants.
"Only two states have sizable populations, and both of them face very serious threats," said Rana Banerjee, a program assistant with the Forest Guardians' Endangered Species Act program. "If the Fish and Wildlife Service refuses this majestic bird protection, it will soon disappear."
Sizable populations are in Idaho and Colorado. The rest of the bird's current range comprises south-central Wyoming, northern Utah, northeastern Nevada, northern Washington, and central British Columbia, according to the environmental groups.
Historically, the grouse's habitat stretched across nine western states into southwest Canada. Hunting pressure in the 19th century along with conversion of native habitat to farmland is what biologists believe caused the decline of the bird, named for the short, wedged tail that tops out in a point.
Tom Hemker, manager of the Idaho Fish and Game Department's sharp-tailed grouse program, disagreed with environmentalists' characterization that the bird may be in danger of extinction. "We feel like we have a stable, long-term population," Hemker said.
In 1995, environmentalists petitioned to have the bird listed as a threatened species, but the Fish and Wildlife Service declined the request in 2000.
Joan Jewett, a spokeswoman for Fish and Wildlife Service in Portland, Oregon, said the decision was based, at least in part, on habitat protection afforded by tracts of land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program, an agricultural land retirement initiative authorized through 2007.
However, she said the agency would examine the latest request closely.
"Much of the West has had drought conditions, and if those conditions have altered the available habitat any, that is something we would take a look at," she said.
Source: Associated Press