Western governors group releases 2014 greater sage grouse inventory

Western US governors released their 2014 Sage Grouse Inventory, which highlights conservation efforts by public, private, and nongovernment organizations during the past year to protect the bird’s 11-state habitat. Several Rocky Mountain oil and gas producers are actively involved.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service listed the greater sage grouse as “warranted but precluded” under the federal Endangered Species Act in 2010, and plans to decide whether it will be designated a threatened or endangered species by Sept. 15, the Western Governors Association said as it released its fourth annual inventory on Apr. 1.

Western governors contend that the magnitude of voluntary conservation efforts across the region, if allowed to run their course, will provide the bird with the necessary habitat to thrive.

“Governors believe that a listing of the greater sage grouse by the [FWS] would diminish the amount of conservation work undertaken and have a significant, negative economic impact across the West,” said Colorado Gov. John W. Hickenlooper (D), who co-chairs the Sage Grouse Task Force (SGTF), which includes designees from western states and federal agencies.

“What we’re trying to do is prevent the sage grouse from being listed,” added Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead (R), the taskforce’s other co-chair. “Private landowners, industry, and conservationists are working with state and federal agencies with the goal of ensuring a healthy grouse population.”

Highlights from the latest inventory include:

• Colorado, Idaho, and Montana’s collectively protecting nearly 350,000 acres of the sage grouse’s habitat through purchase or conservation easements.

• Colorado, Nevada, North Dakota, and South Dakota’s either completing or updating state plans for the bird’s conservation during 2014.

• Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D) issuing an executive order in 2014, establishing a statewide greater sage grouse habitat conservation program and requiring state agency compliance.

• The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) putting more than 450,000 acres of western land into easements in the past 5 years, bringing its investment to $165 million. Partner matches bring that total to $250 million, NGA noted.

• NRCS investing almost $300 million in sage grouse conservation efforts, matched by more than $125 million from partners and landowners, for a total of nearly $425 million to conserve more than 4 million acres.

• Utah’s completing nearly 85% of a 560,000-acre project to ameliorate conifer encroachment in sage grouse management areas.

• Wyoming’s legislature awarding $2 million for additional greater sage grouse research.

The governors also published the 2014 Sage Grouse Appendix, which identifies all sage grouse conservation initiatives reported by states and counties since 2011.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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