Lots of folks on both sides of the issue are waiting with bated breath for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision on the status of the sage grouse . . .
A decision by the U.S. government on whether to propose protections for the greater sage grouse in 11 Western states could come next week, the chairman of a committee overseeing Montana’s conservation plan said Friday.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has until the end of the month to decide whether to propose designating the ground-dwelling bird as a threatened or endangered species. Congress has prohibited the agency from acting on that decision through at least September 2016.
The agency could decide that federal protections aren’t warranted, or that the measures are warranted but precluded by higher priorities.
Yet another factor to consider in sage grouse preservation efforts . . .
If increasingly destructive wildfires in the Great Basin can’t be stopped, the sage grouse population will be cut in half over the next three decades, scientists say.
A report released Thursday by the U.S. Geological Survey comes just ahead of a court-ordered Sept. 30 deadline faced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to decide whether sage grouse need protection under the Endangered Species Act. Experts say such a listing could damage Western states’ economies.
“The sagebrush steppe and sagebrush ecosystem are in trouble,” said Matt Brooks, a fire ecologist with the USGS and one of the report’s authors.
Montana enacts a sage grouse conservation plan without waiting for the feds . . .
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock has ordered state agencies to enact a program to conserve greater sage grouse populations by the start of next year as federal officials consider whether more sweeping protections are needed.
The order issued Tuesday follows on a 2014 grouse conservation plan that places some restrictions on oil and gas drilling and other activities blamed for driving down sage grouse numbers.
Critics of the state plan say it has too many loopholes allowing companies to get around the restrictions.
A little more progress on sage grouse conservation . . .
Gov. Steve Bullock signed an agreement Monday with the U.S. Department of Agriculture pledging cooperation on efforts to protect declining populations of greater sage grouse.
The agreement signed at the Capitol in Helena calls for state, federal and local officials to meet annually to discuss sage grouse conservation. It includes no new spending or regulations.
The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief Jason Weller said the agreement should help streamline and coordinate sage grouse conservation efforts on private land in the state. Seventy percent of sage grouse habitat in Montana is on private or state lands.
The federal government rolled out their sage grouse conservation plan to considerable debate . . .
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell revealed plans Thursday to preserve habitat in 10 Western states for an imperiled ground-dwelling bird, the federal government’s biggest land-planning effort to date for conservation of a single species.
The proposal would affect energy development. The regulations would require oil and gas wells to be clustered in groups of a half-dozen or more to avoid scattering them across habitat of the greater sage grouse. Drilling near breeding areas would be prohibited during mating season, and power lines would be moved away from prime habitat to avoid serving as perches for raptors that eat sage grouse.
Some will say the plans don’t go far enough to protect the bird, Jewell said. “But I would say these plans are grounded in sound science — the best available science,” she said at a news conference on a ranch near Cheyenne.