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Greater Sage Grouse Ruffle Political Feathers in D.C.

PHOTO: A one-year delay in a decision about whether the greater sage grouse is listed under the Endangered Species Act has been hotly debated, ever since the extension showed up as a rider in the federal spending bill. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.
PHOTO: A one-year delay in a decision about whether the greater sage grouse is listed under the Endangered Species Act has been hotly debated, ever since the extension showed up as a rider in the federal spending bill. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.
January 7, 2015

CHEYENNE, Wyo. - The greater sage grouse is known for its showy display during mating season, and now it's also become a star in the federal spending bill.

A rider was attached that prevents the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from listing the species under the Endangered Species Act for one year. While the debate about that move has been contentious, Eric Holst, senior director for working lands at the Environmental Defense Fund, said there's been a lot of cooperation and initiative in Wyoming. He said the delay gives a little more time to make progress and create new agreements to preserve habitat.

"The general sentiment is, this is a bird that everybody wants to see thrive," he said. "There's a real willingness to manage land in ways that allow it to thrive."

It's estimated there are about 500,000 birds left. A decision on the listing was expected in September before the rider appeared.

Holst said the bird only mates once a year, so changes to benefit the bird aren't instant. However, they could influence the Endangered Species Act decision.

"And I think we can use the next year to put a lot of those agreements in place," he said, "and then decision-makers can factor those agreements into their decision-making about whether or not to list the bird."

Holst cited "habitat exchanges" as a new and innovative way to reward landowners, who will be paid for "growing" sage grouse habitat. Those opposed to the listing argue that the numbers are still significant and that an ESA listing would be detrimental to ranchers and the energy industry.

Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - WY