U.S. Decides Sage Grouse Not Endangered as Population Surges

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  • Interior Department cites `unprecedented' collaborative effort
  • Oil drillers, cattle ranchers and wind farmers to benefit

The greater sage grouse will not be classified as an endangered species, after environmental groups, farmers and oil drillers helped preserve the birds’ habitat and their population surged.

Citing “an unprecedented effort by dozens of partners across 11 western states,” the U.S. Interior Department said the bird doesn’t need to protections of the Endangered Species Act, according to a statement Tuesday.

The decision caps a multiyear debate over the fate of the birds, which are known for their colorful mating dances. The number of males on traditional mating areas called leks increased 63 percent from their low in 2013, according to an Aug. 17 report from the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. The group formed a conservation strategy for the sage grouse in 2006 to coordinate efforts to prevent loss of habitat.

“Lots of people have been working really hard for years to avoid an endangerment finding,” San Stiver, sage grouse coordinator for the group, said in an interview Monday. “It’s been an epic conservation effort.”

The decision means ranchers may continue using federal lands for grazing near sage grouse populations, and paves the way for wind farm developers to access some of the strongest breezes in the U.S. West.

Wind Farms

“Responsibly-sited wind energy stands poised to help save the species,” said John Anderson, senior director for permitting policy and environmental affairs at the Washington-based American Wind Energy Association. Sage grouse are more threatened by climate change from burning fossil fuels than from towering wind turbines, he said in an e-mail. “Wind energy and sage grouse can continue to safely coexist.”

Environmental groups said the decision shows that the threat of federal regulations can align diverse groups to protect species and habitats.

“This decision illustrates what the Endangered Species Act is supposed to be all about: galvanizing collaborative efforts to save wildlife species before they’re on the brink of extinction,” Collin O’Mara, chief executive officer the National Wildlife Federation, said in a statement.