Friday, March 5, 2010

USFWS decides not to add Sage Grouse to ESA list... yet

In a release by the USFWS, it was announced that, while the greater sage grouse warrants ESA protection, it will NOT list the game bird under the Endangered Species Act at this time, but will continue to monitor progress (as a candidate species) on an annual basis.

 From the Press Release issued today...

"The determination by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) today that listing the greater sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is warranted, but precluded for now, confirms that some of America's most treasured landscapes and game species are in trouble. It is a wake-up call for landowners, industry, and conservationists to work together to reverse the decline of the bird and the land it inhabits. Greater sage-grouse currently occur in only 11 western states: California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming 

"An endangered species listing is no one's first choice as a tool to fix broken landscapes," said Ted Toombs, Rocky Mountain Regional Director of the Center for Conservation Incentives at Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and a member of several state technical committees for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). "It is really a last resort option to keep species from going extinct."

"The first, best option to protect species is for conservationists, farmers, ranchers, energy companies, the recreation industry, and other stakeholders to work together on habitat conservation and restoration, so that an endangered species listing can be avoided," Toombs added. "Many western industries -- including tourism, hunting and livestock -- depend on the same thing as this iconic bird: healthy, productive, open lands."

According to FWS, while the bird's decline warrants listing, it must be delayed due to the backlog of other species that are already candidates for ESA listing. Whazzat again? This statement seems to imply that the USFWS is unable to fulfill their mandate to protect our fish and wildlife resources.

The press release goes on to quote representatives of the oil and gas, windfarm and ranching industries promising that they will improve their operations to have less impact on sage grouse habitat. Further, any landowner who engages in a Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA). CCAAs protect landowners who voluntarily adopt habitat restoration measures from future land use regulations in the case that this game bird is granted endangered status, with the goal of avoiding endangered species listing. However, if the species is listed in the future, the landowner is absolved of any obligations beyond the CCAA. Last month, FWS negotiated the first CCAA to protect the greater sage-grouse in the nation with landowners in southwest Idaho and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. FWS is negotiating similar pacts elsewhere in Idaho, Wyoming and other western states inhabited by ESA candidate species. I am uncertain, given zero history on this program (in regards to sage grouse) whether this is a silver bullet or a trap door. 

I guess we will have to wait and see if politics, public lands resource management, and voluntary programs by rancher and extractive users will save the greater sage grouse. Hasn't happened yet.

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