Energy & Environment
6:00 pm
Wed May 28, 2014

Utah Strategy on Sage Grouse Advances

Leaders in Utah and other Western states want to delay the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's decision on whether the Greater Sage Grouse deserves federal protections under the Endangered Species Act. Conservation advocates say the iconic bird needs those federal protections.
Credit Gail L. Patricelli

Utah leaders are pressing forward with their aggressive campaign to keep the Greater Sage Grouse off the endangered species list.

Republican Utah Congressman Rob Bishop is co-sponsoring a new bill to block the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from adding the sage grouse to the federal list of Endangered and Threatened Species.

Meanwhile, the state has signed a $2 million contract with consultant Ryan Benson to make a case to delay the wildlife agency’s decision for a decade.  Benson says the state has its own plan to restore sage grouse numbers, and it’s working.

“Sage Grouse conservation is completely consistent with responsible multiple use,” he says, “and it really is part of showing to Congress, and also to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, that the state is a responsible manager of these species.”

Western Republicans claim it could cost their state economies billions of dollars if the wildlife agency puts in place national protections for the bird.

And while some conservation groups welcome a dialog about protecting the sage grouse, they also want the fish and wildlife service to meet a court-imposed deadline next year to make a listing decision. The groups say say what happens to the sage grouse suggests what could happen to more than 300 species that also rely on sizable tracts of Western range.

“It doesn’t make sense to spend two million taxpayer dollars to lobby to prevent listing of greater sage grouse,” Mark Salvo works with Defenders of Wildlife in Washington, D.C., “if you’re otherwise convinced that the conservation strategies that your state has implemented are sufficient to conserve the species.”

The Utah Board of Oil, Gas and Mining discussed Wednesday whether the state’s sage grouse plan should be factored into mineral-mining and energy decisions. Industry representatives discouraged that move. But board members agreed to consider the idea further to show the Fish and Wildlife Service it supports the state’s sage grouse strategy.