Sage Grouse Won't Be Federally Protected
PHOENIX The federal government has decided not to list the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act, a Colorado senator announced Thursday.
The yearslong battle over whether to declare the large game bird endangered has pitted development and related interests against conservationists. Listing the bird under the act would have meant restrictions on grazing, oil and gas leasing, and hunting across 150 million acres of sagebrush habitat in 11 Western states.
"This is great news for everyone across the West, highlighting this administration's willingness to listen to the ideas and perspectives of the scientific community, as well as local and tribal governments and those most impacted by such a listing," U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., said in a statement.
Messages left at Allard's office, at the Interior Department and at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service were not immediately returned Thursday night.
Interior Secretary Gale Norton has said that extending federal protections to the sage grouse would have a significant impact on development.
Restrictions would have particularly impinged Bush administration plans to produce more energy from public lands. The bird's habitat sits atop some of the nation's richest natural gas fields in Colorado, Montana, Utah and Wyoming.
Loss of habitat -- from urban sprawl, increased traffic and other reasons -- is seen as the biggest threat to the sage grouse, which weighs up to eight pounds, and has a long, pointed tail and a mustard-colored pouch on its throat.
Environmentalists say not listing the bird means that damaging activities will continue in much of the bird's habitat, to the detriment of the grouse and scores of other species.
As many as 16 million of the ground-dwelling, chicken-like birds may have inhabited the Western United States and Canada at one time, the government estimates, but their number declined to as few as 142,000.
Source: Associated Press