The federal government announced a new plan Thursday to try and protect the greater sage-grouse from extinction while avoiding adding the bird to the endangered species list. Bente Birkeland has more from the state capitol.
The bird lives on the ground and spans 10 western states including Colorado. The population has dropped from 16 million birds to less than half a million mainly due to lost sagebrush habitat.
The Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service unveiled the conservation plan in Cheyenne, WY. “As land managers of two-thirds of greater sage-grouse habitat, we have a responsibility to take action that ensures a bright future for wildlife and a thriving western economy,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell.
Jewell said wildfires, invasive species, and development are the biggest habitat threats for the sage-grouse. The proposal includes several efforts to reduce habitat fragmentation, including caps on development and minimizing oil and gas drilling on sagebrush lands and expansion for mining operations. The proposal would also limit transmission lines and said large-scale wind and solar projects also negatively impact the bird.
States have been working for years on local efforts to protect the bird. Earlier this month Governor John Hickenlooper issued an executive order asking state agencies to beef up their efforts to protect the greater sage-grouse and set up a process to review oil and gas regulations to mitigate impacts.
The order also creates a market-based system to preserve sage-grouse lands. Energy companies and others that disturb habitat could pay landowners who create or improve sage-grouse territory.
“We firmly believe that state-led efforts provide the most effective approach to protecting and conserving the species and its habitat,” said Hickenlooper. “The listing of the greater sage-grouse under the [Endangered Species Act] would have a significant and detrimental economic impact on the state.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services is expected to make a decision in September about whether to put the sage-grouse on the endangered species list.