The most controversial bird in America could take a significant step toward new federal protections in the next two weeks, despite objections from congressional Republicans and the energy industry.
The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is under a Sept. 30 court deadline to decide whether it believes the greater sage grouse needs protection as an endangered species.
The chicken-sized bird with a flamboyant mating dance flew into the national spotlight in the past year, amid GOP efforts to prevent a listing under the Endangered Species Act. The debate has brought a level of attention — and derision — to species conservation unseen since the 1980s and 1990s fight over the spotted owl.
Oil and natural gas drillers complain that the restrictions that go along with an endangered designation would cost billions of dollars, because the 11-state sagebrush habitat of the sage grouse is key oil and gas drilling land.
Despite wide disagreements over what the sage grouse needs — and what those protections would cost — the divergent interests in the debate actually agree that that an endangered listing should and could be avoided.
States, counties, federal land managers, farmers, energy companies and others have undertaken extensive efforts in recent years to conserve the species, and those actions could very well convince the FWS that further federal protection is unnecessary.
“I’m hoping for a not-warranted decision and for everybody to move ahead and implement these plans to begin the process of saving that ecosystem,” said Brian Rutledge, director for the Rockies region at the National Audubon Society.
“We’ve seen extensive efforts, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars of conservation across the West,” added Kathleen Sgamma, vice president of government relations for the Western Energy Alliance. “We in the West are successfully conserving the sage grouse, so a not-warranted decision would be proper.”