Beveridge & Diamond
 

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Finds That Protection Is Warranted But Declines to Add Greater Sage-Grouse to ESA List

Beveridge & Diamond, P.C., March 9, 2010

On March 5, 2010, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (“Service”) determined that the greater sage-grouse, a ground dwelling bird found throughout much of the West, warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”).  The Service, however, declined to list the greater sage-grouse under the ESA because it determined that listing is precluded by the need to address higher priority species first.  As a result of this decision, the greater sage-grouse will join more than 200 species on a candidate list for future action, and states will remain responsible for managing the bird.  Citing uncertainty regarding Congressional appropriations and the complexity of listing decisions regarding candidate species with higher priority than the greater sage-grouse, the Service declined to estimate how long it might be before the Service prepares a final rule protecting the greater sage-grouse under the ESA. 

Because of the broad range of the greater sage-grouse’s habitat, a decision to list the greater sage-grouse under the ESA could have had significant impacts to resource exploration and development in the West.  The Service characterizes the greater sage-grouse as a “landscape scale species, requiring large expanses of sagebrush to meet all seasonal habitat requirements.”  Consequently, decreasing fragmentation of greater sage-grouse habitat would likely be a primary focus of any regulatory efforts to protect the greater sage-grouse under the ESA.  With the Service’s decision not to list the greater sage-grouse, the full extent of a listing’s potential impacts to resource exploration and development will remain uncertain for the immediate future.  In a move that, if successful, would bring consideration of these impacts to the fore sooner rather than later, on March 8 the Western Watersheds Project filed suit challenging the Service’s decision in United States District Court in Boise, Idaho.

For additional information about this regulatory action or other matters involving the Endangered Species Act, please contact Fred Wagner (fwagner@bdlaw.com), Tim Sullivan (tsullivan@bdlaw.com) or Gary Smith (gsmith@bdlaw.com).

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