On 5 March 2010, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service published the following notice in the Federal Register:1
We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce three 12-month findings on petitions to list three entities of the greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act). We find that listing the greater sage-grouse (rangewide) is warranted, but precluded by higher priority listing actions. We will develop a proposed rule to list the greater sage- grouse as our priorities allow.If -- when -- the Service decides to list the greater sage grouse, the impacts on land use will be even more widespread than when it listed the northern spotted owl a couple of decades ago. It could affect land use in 11 western states that harbor populations.
If federal biologists impose the act, they would have to affirm that any project -- coal mine, oil well, wind farm or other -- wouldn't threaten grouse populations. For instance, the oil shale, tar sands, oil and gas ringing eastern Utah's Book Cliffs could become off-limits. (source)Wyoming has about 40 percent of the remaining individuals, and declines have slowed since the 1960s and 1970s. Habitat loss and modification appear to be the primary threats.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert appointed a working group after a late-December BLM announcement that district managers must start considering grouse when approving development plans. An interim guideline recommends a three-mile buffer around each lek (a flat opening in the sagebrush where males return to puff and strut each spring).
The Utah group includes federal, state and county officials, a university expert, energy-industry executives and a Nature Conservancy representative. It's charged with quickly -- this spring -- fashioning a Wyoming-style plan that the Fish and Wildlife Service might accept in place of either BLM rules or stricter endangered-species protections.
"Everybody will have to bend," said group coordinator Kathleen Clarke, the governor's top public-lands adviser. The idea is to save birds so the state can save its industry -- and to do it, more or less, through consensus.
1There's a link to the Federal Register notice on the sage grouse page hosted by the Mountain-Prairie Region of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.