- Associated Press - Friday, December 4, 2015

RENO, Nev. (AP) - The U.S. Interior Department has agreed to defer to new, higher quality maps of sage grouse habitat in Nevada that correct glaring inaccuracies in earlier federal maps that showed the birds living near urban areas in Reno and Sparks and threatened development on the drawing board for years, Gov. Brian Sandoval said Friday.

Sandoval said after meeting with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell for more than an hour in Las Vegas that they have resolved a number of Nevada’s concerns about new land management rules protecting the bird, including the potential impacts on plans to build a middle school in Sun Valley north of Reno and develop a veterans’ cemetery in Sparks.

“The agreement we have reached eliminates that concern and allows Washoe County to go forward in the future if it decides to develop that school or make a decision to develop that cemetery,” he said.

The Republican governor also repeated his belief that a federal lawsuit challenging the rules - filed by several Nevada counties, miners and ranchers, and backed by his own Attorney General Adam Laxalt - undermines his ongoing efforts to negotiate reasonable implementation of sage grouse protections.

The suit “doesn’t help the situation in terms of getting things done,” Sandoval said. “You add another level with the Department of Justice. … She and I both agreed we’re not going to let the lawsuit get in the way of us solving these issues.”

Sandoval told reporters during a teleconference call Friday evening from Las Vegas where he was attending the Western Governors Association that Jewell agreed “to use our map” - which was produced for the state by the U.S. Geological Survey and will be unveiled publicly for the first time at a meeting of Nevada’s Sage Grouse Ecosystem Council on Dec. 10.

“My staff has seen the maps,” Sandoval said. “There is no doubt that for Washoe County, their concerns have been resolved.”

Jewell told reporters in Las Vegas she wouldn’t comment on the lawsuit, but confirmed she told Sandoval, “Yes, we’ll use the new maps.”

“Mitigation is an important part of the sage grouse plan. We will be reasonable and flexible and work with the states at every level as we implement these plans,” she said, adding that Washoe County’s concerns about the school and cemetery “are no longer an issue.”

Sandoval said Jewell also agreed to expedite efforts to find a way for the rural town of Baker to obtain a right of way on federal land needed to build a new water supply tank in White Pine County near the Utah line where existing maps show priority grouse habitat.

“The secretary told me today she is committed to getting that issue resolved by early next year in a manner that maintains public health and safety,” he said.

The Baker water tank and Washoe County projects are among projects specifically cited in the lawsuit challenging the land planning amendments. U.S. District Judge Miranda Du in Reno isn’t expected to rule before next year on a request for a temporary injunction blocking implementation of the new rules in Nevada and northeast California.

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Associated Press writer Ken Ritter in Las Vegas also contributed to this report. Rindels reported from Carson City.

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