The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) has announced that the greater sage grouse, a ground-dwelling bird that inhabits much of the western U.S., will not be listed as an endangered species.
The DOI says it will expand efforts with state, local and tribal partners to map lands that are vital to the survival of the sage grouse while guiding and managing new conventional and renewable energy projects to reduce impacts on the species. The sage grouse is found in California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming – states that have large wind resources.
‘We are committed to implementing science-based conservation measures that reduce or eliminate threats to sage grouse and, at the same time, allow for responsible renewable energy development in Western states,’ says Denise Bode, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), which supports research aimed at defining the best possible strategies for conserving wildlife species. ‘AWEA and the wind industry have shown their commitment to wildlife conservation by working with such collaborative efforts as the American Wind Wildlife Institute, the Bats & Wind Energy Cooperative and the recently created Sage Grouse Research Collaborative.’
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) found that, based on accumulated scientific data and new peer-reviewed information and analysis, the greater sage grouse warrants the protection of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) but that listing the species at this time is precluded by the need to address higher-priority species first.
The greater sage-grouse will be placed on the candidate list for future action, meaning the species would not receive statutory protection under the ESA and states would continue to be responsible for managing the bird.
The decision means that the status of the greater sage grouse will be evaluated every 12 months along with the status of the 279 other ESA candidate species. Making the greater sage grouse a candidate species allows agencies like the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service to treat the bird as if it were an endangered species, and requires state and federal land management agencies to consult with the FWS whenever a proposed development would encroach upon greater sage-grouse habitat.
If the status of the greater sage grouse is more perilous next year or in subsequent years, the FWS will be more likely to formally list the bird under the ESA, according to the Environmental Defense Fund.
The BLM will issue guidance that will expand the use of new science and mapping technologies to improve land-use planning and develop additional measures to conserve sage grouse habitat, while ensuring that energy production, recreational access and other uses of federal lands continue as appropriate.
The BLM guidance also addresses a related species, the Gunnison sage grouse, which has a more limited range and is in the process of being evaluated by the FWS to determine whether it also warrants protection under the ESA.