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Sage Grouse Does Not Need Protection, U.S. Fish And Wildlife Service Says

Sep 22, 2015
Originally published on September 27, 2015 11:56 am
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The federal government made a long-awaited decision today on a chicken-sized bird. The greater sage-grouse will not be listed under the Endangered Species Act. Rangers and the energy industry worry that doing so would've cost billions of dollars in lost income. The decision received a warm welcome during a ceremony near Denver. But as Colorado Public Radio's Grace Hood explains, no everyone is happy with this outcome.

GRACE HOOD, BYLINE: Western governors, federal biologists, ranchers and environmentalists - they all came to Denver to celebrate a key moment for the greater sage-grouse - a negotiated conservation plan. U.S. Department of Interior secretary Sally Jewell says the Endangered Species Act served as a catalyst for that decision.

SALLY JEWELL: So that's what we've seen today - thoughtful law galvanizing individuals to not only save a species, but also the entire landscape and heritage of the American West.

HOOD: About half of the greater sage-grouse's habitat is on federal lands. Jewell says nearly 100 separate-but-related management plans pave an important path forward. So will additional work by ranchers on private land, ranchers like Duane Coombs of Nevada who called the decision good governance.

DUANE COOMBS: Good governance empowers communities. It gives dignity to those at the bottom rungs of society. It gives dignity to those - the little people.

HOOD: The potential listing of the greater sage-grouse has been compared to those of the Northern spotted owl and the gray wolf. A listing could've tied up access to millions of acres of land across the West, affecting the energy industry and ranching. Audubon Rockies executive director Brian Rutledge says even though the bird isn't being listed, this plan will help save the species.

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BRIAN RUTLEDGE: Today, we start to bind up the wounds. We stop the bleeding. We move forward in a way where we can study and learn and develop and protect as we go.

HOOD: But today's announcement may mark the beginning of lawsuits by people who think that the conservation efforts don't go far enough. Travis Bruner with Western Watersheds Project says his organization is considering legal action to get more protections for the bird.

TRAVIS BRUNER: Believe that the - a decision short of listing is really not a science-based decision, and that's what the official Wildlife Service is charged with making.

HOOD: Lawsuits could also come from the energy industry based on how today's announcement affects federal lands near sage-grouse habitat. Some in that industry think the compromise protections may go too far. For NPR News, I'm Grace Hood in Denver. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.