Sage grouse series to answer concerns, questions | CraigDailyPress.com

Sage grouse series to answer concerns, questions

Noelle Leavitt Riley

Noelle Leavitt Riley

— For five years, a massive conservation effort across 11 states has been under way to protect the greater sage grouse in hopes that this September, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would find the bird "not warranted" for listing under the Endangered Species Act.

Though federal legislation has frozen the Fish and Wildlife's ability to list the bird — at least for the immediate future — the agency will still evaluate whether the efforts of the last five years have been enough to set the sage grouse on the right track or whether it still warrants federal protection.

The Moffat County community, and other communities affected by a potential listing, have been watching the bird with an eagle eye for the last few years.

To better dissect the issue for readers, the Craig Daily Press sent reporter Lauren Blair on a five-state sage grouse tour hosted by the Institute for Journalism & Natural Resources.

Blair was gone for seven days and covered more than 1,800 miles with 17 other journalists from around the nation. The group toured sage grouse habitat, visited oil fields and talked to ranchers in an effort to gain a better understanding of the sagebrush ecosystem.

What makes the greater sage grouse saga so profound is that a listing decision could change the face of the West, and the conservation efforts the sage grouse has inspired already have wrought major changes. Blair has done a fantastic job exploring those impacts in a three-part series that will run on the cover of this week's Wednesday, Friday and Saturday newspapers.

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Her detailed account about conservation measures to boost the population and the future of the greater sage grouse is compelling. It will no doubt explain lingering questions about a bird that has caused much controversy.

No one knows exactly what the Fish and Wildlife will decide in September, nor what will come of Congress's attempts to block a listing, but one thing is blatantly clear — no one wants the bird listed, including local and state governments, ranchers, energy industry representatives and even environmentalists.

Last month, the Bureau of Land Management released its highly anticipated Environmental Impact Assessment, which set forth new regulations for sage grouse habitat that are making some local governmental officials, oil and gas companies and ranchers nervous.

The big question is: What does it all mean? That's exactly our focus of attention.

So I invite you to read our three-part series this week that I believe will help the community better understand what's next for the greater sage grouse, its habitat and those who have so much at stake.

Noelle Leavitt Riley is the editor of the Craig Daily Press. Reach her at 970-875-1790 or nriley@CraigDaiyPress.com.

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