US agency re­view­ing sta­tus of bis­tate sage grouse

The Tribune (SLO) - - Insight - BY SCOTT SONNER

RENO, NEV.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice is re­vis­ing its plans to pro­tect a type of im­per­iled game bird found only along the Cal­i­for­nia-Ne­vada line af­ter a fed­eral judge struck down its ear­lier de­ci­sion to re­scind a pro­posal to list it as threat­ened.

The agency an­nounced late Thurs­day it will re­open the pub­lic com­ment pe­riod and re­con­sider whether to pro­tect the bis­tate sage grouse un­der the En­dan­gered Species Act through June 11.

A judge ruled last May that the agency acted il­le­gally in 2015 when it with­drew an ear­lier pro­posal to list the bis­tate grouse as a dis­tinct, threat­ened seg­ment of the larger pop­u­la­tion of the greater sage grouse.

The greater sage grouse is at the cen­ter of a dis­pute over Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion ef­forts to roll back pro­tec­tions adopted un­der Pres­i­dent Barack Obama across 11 west­ern states.

The U.S. For­est Ser­vice also is cur­rently be­ing sued over the bis­tate grouse by off-road en­thu­si­asts in Cal­i­for­nia and Ne­vada who say that agency’s pro­tec­tion plans un­nec­es­sar­ily re­strict mo­tor­ized travel and could in­crease fire dan­ger across range­land habi­tat in the Hum­boldt-Toiyabe National For­est on the Sierra’s east­ern front.

Scientists say both types of ground-dwelling, chicken-sized birds need mul­ti­ple miles of undis­turbed habi­tat around their tra­di­tional breed­ing grounds known as “leks” free from oil and gas drilling, live­stock graz­ing, min­ing and other de­vel­op­ment. But they say the bis­tate grouse is more at risk than greater sage grouse with as few as 5,000 re­main­ing across 7,000 square miles of high­desert sage­brush.

The Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice an­nounced Thurs­day it was re­open­ing a 60-day com­ment pe­riod on the bis­tate grouse’s sta­tus and plans to pub­lish a final list­ing de­ter­mi­na­tion by Oct. 1.

In the mean­time, the bird re­verts to pro­posed list­ing sta­tus, which means other fed­eral land man­agers must con­sult with Fish and Wildlife about any de­vel­op­ment or man­age­ment plans that could en­croach on its habi­tat, the agency said.

Pressed by con­ser­va­tion­ists in court, the Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice orig­i­nally pub­lished a pro­posal in Oc­to­ber 2013 to list the bis­tate grouse as a dis­tinct pop­u­la­tion seg­ment of the greater sage grouse that was threat­ened with ex­tinc­tion in Cal­i­for­nia and Ne­vada.

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