Sage grouse decision gives ranchers, developers year for conservation efforts

The listing of sage grouse as a threatened species is warranted but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service instead will place the bird on a list of candidate species and watch how conservation efforts proceed across 11 Western states.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar made the announcement at a press conference Friday. "The sage grouse's decline reflects the extent to which open land in the West has been developed in the last century," said Salazar.

The "warranted but precluded decision," long expected, means that ranchers, gas and oil drillers and developers in the vast sagebrush sea that covers the American West won't have to face the toughest restrictions of the federal Endangered Species Act. But federal agencies, especially the Bureau of Land Management, will have to ratchet up management efforts over the next year to ensure the bird's habitat and numbers increase.

Interior officials credited conservation efforts in Idaho and Wyoming with their decision to keep the grouse, famous for its colorful spring mating dance, off of the list. Specifically, a 30-year Candidate Conservation Agreement recently approved between ranchers, Idaho and federal agencies protects up to 644,000 acres of sage grouse habitat around Weiser, Midvale and Cambridge.

The ranchers agree to alter their haying schedules, wait until chicks have hatched to turn cattle out and to help the birds in other ways. Idaho is seeking to protect two other areas in eastern Idaho with more than a million acres of sagebrush steppe habitat.

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