By TONI ELLINGTON
On April 21, 2015, the Department of Interior made the announcement that it would not designate a small population of Greater Sage Grouse in Nevada and California as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”). The ruling was limited to these isolated groups of the birds in the two states. A decision is expected this fall on whether ESA protection is warranted for hundreds of thousands of the birds in an area covering eleven western states.
Populations of the Greater Sage Grouse have declined because of the overgrowth of invasive trees in their native habitat areas, which allows birds of prey to perch and attack the grouse and their chicks. In addition, wildfires have burned off sagebrush, which is the species’ food source. The birds’ habitat has also been impacted by human encroachment.
The habitat for the Greater Sage Grouse in the eleven-state region has been disturbed by mineral extraction, wind energy development, and wide-spread cattle grazing. The region includes the states of Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Washington, Montana, and Arizona. Governors for some of these states oppose listing the bird, because it would limit energy exploration and cattle grazing over a large area of public and private land in the western United States.
The Greater Sage Grouse was once in plentiful supply in North America. It was a food source for Americans who settled the west. The current population is approximately 5 percent of the species’ historic population.
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