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Feds delay sage grouse decision until 2010

Federal officials are again delaying whether to list sage grouse in 11 Western states as threatened or endangered -- leaving in limbo until at least 2010 a spate of industries that could face sweeping restrictions if the bird is protected. The chicken-sized grouse ranges from Montana to California alongside livestock grazing, oil and gas drilling and an increasing number of wind power turbines.

BILLINGS, Mont. -- Federal officials are again delaying whether to list sage grouse in 11 Western states as threatened or endangered -- leaving in limbo until at least 2010 a spate of industries that could face sweeping restrictions if the bird is protected.

The chicken-sized grouse ranges from Montana to California alongside livestock grazing, oil and gas drilling and an increasing number of wind power turbines.

Its population has been in decline for decades, but how many remain is unknown.

For the Obama administration, the decision on sage grouse could force an uncomfortable choice. On one side are environmental groups that supported him as a candidate and want the grouse protected. On the other is a renewable energy industry much touted by the president but lately emerging as a potential threat to the bird's habitat.

"The Fish and Wildlife Service is well aware of the significance of this decision, because of its potential impact on a broad area and many activities within that broad area," said Michael Bean, a senior adviser to Assistant Secretary of Interior Tom Strickland.

Bean was formerly an attorney for the Environmental Defense Fund, where he worked... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

BILLINGS, Mont. -- Federal officials are again delaying whether to list sage grouse in 11 Western states as threatened or endangered -- leaving in limbo until at least 2010 a spate of industries that could face sweeping restrictions if the bird is protected.

The chicken-sized grouse ranges from Montana to California alongside livestock grazing, oil and gas drilling and an increasing number of wind power turbines.

Its population has been in decline for decades, but how many remain is unknown.

For the Obama administration, the decision on sage grouse could force an uncomfortable choice. On one side are environmental groups that supported him as a candidate and want the grouse protected. On the other is a renewable energy industry much touted by the president but lately emerging as a potential threat to the bird's habitat.

"The Fish and Wildlife Service is well aware of the significance of this decision, because of its potential impact on a broad area and many activities within that broad area," said Michael Bean, a senior adviser to Assistant Secretary of Interior Tom Strickland.

Bean was formerly an attorney for the Environmental Defense Fund, where he worked in part on sage grouse issues.

A decision on the bird already had been delayed twice, following a federal judge's 2007 order that the government give sage grouse new consideration for listing under the Endangered Species Act.

Government biologists said they could not meet the latest deadline in May because they needed more time to gather scientific data. The decision is now set for next February under an agreement recently reached between Justice Department lawyers and environmentalists.

"We're stuck in this spot where we're really worried about sage grouse and we think bad things are happening and it needs to be listed. But it's also important that more science is coming in," said Laird Lucas, an attorney for the Western Watersheds Project, which has a pending lawsuit over the issue.

Lucas' group sued the Fish and Wildlife Service over the issue in 2006.

Under the Bush administration, the service had declined to list the bird as threatened or endangered. U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill in Boise, Idaho, overturned that decision, saying in part that it was tainted by political pressure from former Assistant Interior Secretary Julie MacDonald.

MacDonald resigned following an investigation that found she had interfered in multiple endangered species decisions.

A variety of factors are blamed in the bird's decline -- from the removal of sage brush by cattle ranchers, to drought and West Nile virus outbreaks that hit grouse populations directly.

Sage grouse advocates in recent years singled out oil and gas drilling for criticism because energy companies were pushing deep into some of the bird's last strongholds. Those include the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana, the area surrounding the Roan Plateau in Colorado and the Green River Basin in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming.

With wind energy now on the upswing, so is the potential for the loss of key sage grouse habitat. fragmentation of land considered key sage grouse habitat, by roads and power lines that would be built to support wind farms can fragment land where sage grouse live and breed, pushing them off the land.


Source: http://www.trib.com/article...

JUN 26 2009
http://www.windaction.org/posts/20869-feds-delay-sage-grouse-decision-until-2010
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