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Sage Grouse Population Takes Center Stage

The new celebrity bird ruffles bureaucratic feathers

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For such a little bird, the sage grouse sure knows how to stay in the headlines.

The species has long been under the careful eye of wildlife management agencies and conservationists who fear that development in the West has put the survival of the species in danger.

While sage grouse has managed to stay off of the Endangered Species List--so far--populations are still being closely watched. In fact, when Bureau of Land Management Director Bob Abbey decided to join the world of Twitter, his first tweet concerned the extension of the public comment period for a proposed plan to address sage grouse conservation in 10 Western states. Idaho is on that list, with affected areas including the Boise, Salmon, Challis, Targhee and Caribou national forests and the Curlew National Grassland.

The first tweet for @BLMDirector read, "People wanted more time to comment on #BLM's #sagegrouse conservation measures, so we have extended comments for 45 days on.doi.gov/zHC89r."

That comment period is open to the public through Friday, March 23, and the plan can be viewed at blm.gov. Search for "Western sage grouse plan."

Even Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter has gotten on the sage grouse bandwagon.

On March 9, Otter signed an executive order creating a sage grouse task force charged with helping to come up with a state-specific plan for dealing with the birds.

"The Secretary of the Interior has provided the 11 Western states impacted by a potential listing under the Endangered Species Act the opportunity to develop state-specific plans," Otter wrote in a press release. "The listing of the species would have a significant impact on Idaho's customs, culture, economy and way of life. But I'm confident our Idaho stakeholders will be able to develop workable, reasonable and effective recommendations to conserve the species and preclude the need to list."

The task force, which will be lead by the Governor's Office but assisted by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and the Office of Species Conservation, is made up of representatives of industry, local working groups, legislators, local officials, conservationists, sportsmen and members of the public.

The task force will be responsible for giving recommendations to Otter on both policies and actions that the state can use for a regulatory plan to help protect sage grouse and keep them off the ESL.

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