March 8, 2010

The ESA Meets Reality … Again

By The ESA Meets Reality … Again

Author: Reed Hopper

On Friday the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that "the greater sage-grouse warrants the protection of the Endangered Species Act but that listing the species at this time is precluded by the need to address higher priority species first."  In reality, this decision may be based more on a recognition that the listing would have far reaching economic and social impacts than on a lack of agency resources.    

Greater sage-grouse currently occupy 56% of their historic range are found throughout the West in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, eastern California, Nevada, Utah, western Colorado, South Dakota and Wyoming and the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan.

“The sage grouse’s decline reflects the extent to which open land in the West has been developed in the last century,” said Salazar. “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 while responsibly developing much-needed energy resources." 

According to the agency's press release, the Bureau of Land Management will "issue guidance that will expand the use of new science and mapping technologies to improve land-use planning and develop additional measures to conserve sage-grouse habitat while ensuring that energy production, recreational access and other uses of federal lands continue as appropriate."

This "common sense" balancing of species protection with other societal values is a welcome step forward in ESA enforcement, but its rarely employed.  It's too bad the agency did not take this approach in regulating the delta smelt.  Dubious water-use restrictions to protect that species has undermined agricultural production in the California Central Valley and decimated farms and livelihoods.

Update

Author:  Damien M. Schiff

Western Watersheds has filed an amended complaint in the District of Idaho, challenging the Service's candidate listing for the sage grouse.

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