The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced that the greater sage-grouse does not need protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The decision puts an end to a years-long battle about the bird that was at the center of land use debate. However, the news is not all good for mining companies as the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) also finalized Land Use Plan Amendments and announced the withdrawal of 10 million acres from operation of the General Mining Laws.
The Hill reported that development and oil drilling and mineral extraction has threatened the sagebrush ecosystem, which once covered vast portions of the West and still stretches across 11 states. The ecosystem is the habitat for the sage-grouse, which has seen its population drop about 90 percent from its 19th-century levels.
The decision FWS was not unexpected, however, as the federal government, states and others have put great efforts into conserving the species in the hopes that it would not need ESA protections. In her announcement, Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said, “Because of an unprecedented effort by dozens of partners across 11 Western states, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that the greater sage-grouse does not require protection under the Endangered Species Act.”
“The deteriorating health of the bird has sparked the largest land conservation effort in U.S. history,” Jewell added, crediting landowners, scientists, the energy industry and others for the actions.“This has been an extraordinary effort on a scale we’ve never seen before,” she said.
“And the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that these collective efforts add up to a bright future for the sage-grouse.”
The decision received widespread praise from conservationists and others.
“Keeping the greater sage-grouse from being listed as an endangered species has always been my goal, and I’m glad Secretary Jewell arrived at the same conclusion,” said Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), who has sponsored legislation to delay a listing for years. “Greater sage-grouse populations are increasing, and I commend the collaborative efforts from stakeholders to keep this bird from being listed.”
But some Republicans and energy interests complained that the land management plans put in place by the federal government and others have all caused long-term harm to the oil industry and other commercial interests.
“It is disappointing that the collective efforts of the western states were rejected in favor of draconian land use restrictions and mineral withdrawals. The ‘not warranted’ determination is proof that the state and local plans, coupled with private conservation efforts are working.” said Laura Skaer, AEMA Executive Director. “We call on Secretary Jewell to explain why the states’ Sage-Grouse conservation plans were rejected in favor of the federal LUPAs, especially in view of the fact the Department of the Interior (DOI) reached a ‘not warranted’ decision without them.”