Sage-grouse in California, Nevada excluded from federal protection

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 21, 2015 5:35 PM

(Reuters) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has decided to exclude a type of sage-grouse found only in California and Nevada from protection under the Endangered Species Act because of conservation plans to protect the bird, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said on Tuesday.

The move to not require the so-called Bi-State population of greater sage-grouse to be protected results from a $45 million conservation plan developed by federal and state officials and others to ensure the health of the animal.

"It's a conservation success story. It has sound science behind it, that's the only way we can make these decisions" Jewell said at an event in Reno, Nevada, where she was joined by Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval, a Republican.

Millions of sage-grouse are believed to have once inhabited a broad expanse of the Western United States and Canada. Today they are estimated to number between 200,000 and 500,000 birds.

The Bi-State population of greater sage-grouse, which is genetically different from other greater sage-grouse, numbers between 2,500 and 9,000 birds on about 4.5 million acres (1.82 million hectares) of high desert straddling the California-Nevada border, the U.S. Department of the Interior said in a statement.

In October 2013, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed listing the bird species as threatened under the Endangered Species Act based on significant population declines from the loss of habitat and other factors.

The decision is likely to prompt criticism from environmental groups concerned about the bird's dwindling numbers, but relief among ranching and farming groups who feared wider protection could lead to land-use restrictions on big areas of the Western United States.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Eric Walsh)