THE GREATER SAGE-GROUSE will not be protected as an endangered species, at least not this year.
In a much-anticipated decision—with big implications for Wyoming and other western states—Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced Friday that the iconic western bird is indeed in dire straits. But it will not be afforded protections under the Endangered Species Act.
“We have seen a 90 percent decline in the sage-grouse population from a century ago,” Salazar said. “A 50 percent decline in historic habitat, also accompanied by a fragmentation of habitat, has put sage-grouse in peril.”
And scientists are predicting continuing population declines in the years to come, he said.
But instead of a listing under the Endangered Species Act, the Obama administration has decided to designate the bird as a “candidate” species, “warranted but precluded” from a listing.
This means, essentially, that while the bird objectively deserves Endangered Species Act protections, the federal government has decided that with limited resources other species must take priority at this time.
ONUS ON THE STATES, WYOMING PRAISED
During a press conference announcing the decision Friday afternoon, Salazar and Tom Strickland, the assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks, repeatedly praised Wyoming and Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal for the state’s efforts to stabilize the bird’s population in recent years.
They specifically cited Freudenthal’s strategy to preserve core sage-grouse habitat areas, calling it “real important work,” and they implied that Wyoming’s strategy could be a template for saving the bird in the long term.
“This ‘warranted but precluded’ decision may seem convoluted at first, but I think it makes a certain amount of sense,” said Laurie Milford, executive director of the Wyoming Outdoor Council. “Basically they’re saying, ‘Yes, this bird is in big trouble.’ But at the same time they’re acknowledging that the states, especially Wyoming, have been working quite hard to start to turn things around and protect this species.”
The Obama administration is saying it’s not going to butt in as long as the states continue to embrace good ideas like Wyoming’s “core area” strategy, and as long as they continue to make progress toward ensuring the long-term viability of the greater sage-grouse, Milford said.
“I think they’re acknowledging that states like Wyoming have laid out some sound conservation plans for sage-grouse,” she said. “Now the onus is on the states to follow through and get the job done.”
One upshot of a “candidate species” designation is that the sage-grouse’s status will be reviewed annually, with the option of affording the bird Endangered Species Act protections subsequent to any yearly review.
During Friday’s press conference the director of the federal Bureau of Land Management, Bob Abbey, said his agency will review drilling applications “with a lot more scrutiny” in sage-grouse areas, and might attach extra stipulations.
He also indicated the BLM will likely embrace Freudenthal’s call to protect core habitat areas, where 80 percent of the bird’s population resides.
“We think these are good signs,” Milford said. “The federal and state agencies will have to work hard to keep the sage-grouse off the endangered species list, but we believe with the right protections in place the states can and should do it on their own.”
Media Contact: Laurie Milford, Wyoming Outdoor Council, 307-721-7610; firstname.lastname@example.org.