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"Historic" Cooperation Cited in Decision Not to List Sage-Grouse

Cooperative efforts to preserve sagebrush country in Oregon and across the West are credited with the decision to not list the greater sage-grouse as threatened or endangered. Credit: Michelle Alvaredo
Cooperative efforts to preserve sagebrush country in Oregon and across the West are credited with the decision to not list the greater sage-grouse as threatened or endangered. Credit: Michelle Alvaredo
September 23, 2015

BEND, Ore. - The greater sage-grouse will not be listed as threatened or endangered, largely because of voluntary efforts across the West to preserve and improve the bird's habitat.

One takeaway from Tuesday's announcement by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is that hard work and cooperation can pay off. But it's far too early to tell whether it's enough to keep the species and the land healthy, said Dan Morse, conservation director for the Oregon Natural Desert Association. Morse pointed out that the federal decision places enormous responsibility on states to implement and fund their own land-management plans.

"It is really on all of the stakeholders now, to carry out those plans and to find that funding, so that they can demonstrate that that commitment is real," he said. "And only then will we perhaps see the numbers of the birds start to increase. That's the ultimate measure of success here."

Gov. Kate Brown signed an executive order last week finalizing the Oregon Greater Sage-Grouse Action Plan. Morse said ONDA supports the state's and Bureau of Land Management's plans overall, but sees what he calls some "worrisome exceptions" in the plans that could allow for energy development or power lines in sagebrush country. He said conservation groups will be keeping an eye on them.

For the most part, said Jason Weller, who heads the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the sage-grouse debate has had a much different tone than the 1990 decision to list the northern spotted owl. He thinks it's proof that all sides have learned a lot since then.

"We're at a very historic fork in the road, and because we took a positive, proactive approach, this is a very different story with a very positive outcome," he said. "You think about what could have happened if ranchers had not come forward, communities had not come forward, and really tried to have a different result."

The NRCS has worked with 1,100 ranchers across the West on voluntary conservation agreements, and said it will keep the program going through 2018. Brown said the federal decision clears the way for Oregon to manage its own conservation efforts in collaboration with federal agencies.

The governor's executive order is online at oregon/gov/gov. The FWS decision is at fws.gov.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR