Decision on sage grouse protection

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announces bird won't be protected

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Friday that the greater sage grouse would not receive protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The decision follows the recommendation of a panel of Fish and Wildlife scientists and managers, who concluded the greater sage grouse was not in danger of extinction in the foreseeable future.

"I concur with their recommendation that the greater sage grouse does not warrant the special protections of the Endangered Species Act across its range," FWS Director Steve Williams said.

"At the same time, the status review clearly illustrates the need for continued efforts to conserve sage grouse and sagebrush habitat on a long-term basis," Williams said.

About 8,000 greater sage grouse inhabit Moffat County, Tony Apa, a sage grouse research biologist with the state wildlife division in Grand Junction, estimated a year ago. He called that a "fair number of birds."

Greater sage grouse populations across the nation are estimated by the FWS to number from about 100,000 to 500,000 individuals. Sage grouse populations are estimated to have declined by an average of 3.5 percent per year from 1965 to 1985.

Since 1986, however, the rate of decline from 1985 to 2003 slowed to 0.37 percent annually for the species across its entire range.

A group of Moffat County residents has worked on a greater sage grouse conservation plan for the past eight years. They expect the plan to be finalized soon.

The plan provides recommendations land users could volunteer to follow to conserve greater sage grouse and sage brush habitat. For example, it recommends cattle grazers change their grazing time frame to avoid interfering with the greater sage grouse mating season.

The endangered species review was prompted by three petitions that conservation organizations filed requesting the greater sage grouse be listed as a threatened or endangered species.

Conservation organizations have promised to review the FWS's decision before choosing their next course of action.

Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031 or rgebhart@craigdailypress.com.

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