Legal actions follow grouse decision as agencies emphasize conservation plans

Efforts to protect the greater sage grouse will continue on dual tracks, in the courtroom and on the ground, following a federal decision in early March that an Endangered Species Act listing for the bird is warranted but precluded.

Last week, the Center for Biological Diversity, Desert Survivors and Western Watersheds Project environmental groups notified the Interior Department of their plans to take legal action under a citizens suit provision of the Endangered Species Act.

The notice applies to the greater sage grouse as a whole and an isolated population in California and Nevada.

The Western Watersheds Project has filed a supplemental complaint to a years-old lawsuit challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s refusal to list the bird under the act.

The latest legal actions challenge the government’s decision that a listing is precluded by a need to devote limited federal resources to other species that are in greater peril.

The groups say the Endangered Species Act allows delays in protecting species only if the government is making “expeditious progress” in listing other priority species, but few species have been listed in recent years.

The Interior Department declined comment because of the ongoing and pending litigation.

The greater sage grouse’s territory includes northwest Colorado, where efforts have continued to try to protect it while accommodating activities such as livestock grazing and oil and gas development. In a news release Tuesday, the Colorado Division of Wildlife said it believes state management of resident species is most effective and “no one wins” if the sage-grouse ends up being listed as threatened or endangered. It said collaborative state and local conservation plans have resulted in more than 300,000 acres of the bird’s habitat being improved in Colorado.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service has been encouraging agricultural producers with sage grouse habitat to ask the agency about developing a conservation plan on their properties. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently allocated more than $16 million to Colorado and 10 other states for a new sage grouse initiative.

Brandon Miller, of the NRCS office in Steamboat Springs, said probably 20 people already have contacted his office about the program.

Luke Schafer, northwest organizer for the Colorado Environmental Coalition, said while litigation is one approach used by environmental groups, his group hopes stepped-up collaborative efforts in the wake of the “warranted but precluded” decision can suffice to save the sage grouse.

Kathleen Sgamma of the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States said the groups that are suing “want a federally imposed solution that ignores local on-the-ground efforts.”


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