The Department of Interior today said it will not list sage grouse as endangered or threatened but will classify the bird among species that are candidates for federal protection.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced that listing is warranted but precluded by higher priorities - other species that are in greater danger. The finding validates years of effort by some Western states to map the birds' sagebrush habitat and implement conservation actions to prevent a sage grouse listing.
"The sage grouse's decline reflects the extent to which open land in the West has been developed in the last century," Salazar said in a release. "This development has provided important benefits, but we must find common sense ways of protecting, restoring and reconnecting the Western lands that are most important to the species' survival."
Adding the species to the candidate list will allow the Fish and Wildlife Service and other agencies an opportunity to continue to work cooperatively with private landowners to conserve the candidate species. This includes financial and technical assistance and the ability to develop conservation agreements that provide regulatory assurances to landowners who take actions to benefit the species. One such agreement was signed last month in western Idaho, encompassing an area of over half a million acres.
The sage grouse finding results from a lawsuit filed in 2006 by Western Watersheds Project. A federal judge in Boise, Idaho, ruled in 2007 that political pressure tainted an earlier decision not to list the sage grouse.
A chicken-sized, brown bird, sage grouse are found in 11 Western states and western Canada.