- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 21, 2015

It turns out there is a species that the Obama administration doesn’t want to place on the Endangered Species List — the bi-state Mono Basin sage grouse.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced Tuesday that the department is backing off a recommendation to list the bi-state sage grouse as threatened, citing the success of voluntary state, local and private efforts to improve the bird’s habitat.

“Thanks in large part to the extraordinary efforts of all the partners in the working group to address threats to greater sage-grouse and its habitat in the Bi-State area, our biologists have determined that this population no longer needs ESA protection,” Ms. Jewell said at a press conference in Reno, Nevada, with Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican.

“What’s more, the collaborative, science-based efforts in Nevada and California are proof that we can conserve sagebrush habitat across the West while we encourage sustainable economic development,” she said.

The bi-state Mono Basin sage grouse, considered a “distinct population segment” of the Greater sage grouse, is located in rural California and Nevada across about 4.5 million acres of high-desert sagebrush.

She made the announcement amid a flurry of activity at state and local levels to stave off a listing of the Greater sage grouse, which has the potential to cripple ranching, energy development and other economic activity across the bird’s range in 11 states.

The Fish and Wildlife Service’s deadline for the Greater sage grouse decision is Sept. 30, and Mr. Sandoval made it clear that he would like a similar move against listing.

“I think it sets a real nice road map with regards to the greater sage grouse,” Mr. Sandoval told the Reno Gazette-Journal. “I hope today’s announcement serves as a steppingstone.”

Pivotal in the federal government’s decision not to list the bird was the development of the Bi-State Action Plan, a 15-year-old, $45 million project aimed at conserving habitat through measures such as conservation easements.

Kathleen Sgamma, Western Energy Alliance vice president of government and public affairs, said the bi-state ruling “bodes well for the federal government supporting local and state collaboration.”

“This is really a recognition that, ‘Wait a second, local and state efforts are much more effective at conserving species than federal listings,’” said Ms. Sgamma.

Wildlife groups blasted Tuesday’s decision, saying the bi-state sage grouse deserves Endangered Species Act protection in part because its habitat is “fragmented and geographically isolated from all other greater sage grouse populations,” said a statement from the Center for Biological Diversity, which quoted multiple environmentalist groups.

“As recently as December 2014, the Service considered that the magnitude of threats faced by bi-state sage grouse was so high that the birds were assigned the maximum priority for listing,” said Michael Connor, California director of Western Watersheds Project. “The Service’s backpedalling in claiming that unfinished management plans and voluntary, cooperative agreements will protect the species is untrue, and smacks of political expediency.”

The department’s decision was unexpected, given that the Fish and Wildlife Service listed the Gunnison sage grouse, native to Colorado and Utah, as threatened in November, despite vigorous state and local conservation efforts led by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.

The Democratic governor filed a notice of intent to sue the federal government over the listing in December.

“This was a similar situation but a different result. So this was definitely a surprise today,” said Ms. Sgamma.

Federal biologists estimate that there are 2,500 to 9,000 such sage grouse, but the regional conservation effort has succeeded in improving the supply of sagebrush, considered vital for the bird’s survival.

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