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- Greater Sage Grouse
Following decades of debate, the United States federal government in September announced the greater sage grouse did not need special protections under the Endangered Species Act.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack argued public agencies and private interests had done enough to reduce threats to the bird.
"Together, we have shown that voluntary efforts joining the resources of private landowners, federal and state agencies, and partner organizations can help drive landscape-level conservation that is good for sage grouse, ranching operations and rural communities," Vilsack told NPR.
“This is truly a historic effort—one that represents extraordinary collaboration across the American West,” U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a prepared statement.
Greater sage grouse once numbered in the millions in the Western U.S. Today that number ranges between 200,000 and 5000,000, due in large part to human presence. Additionally, cheatgrass, which burns fast and hot, has run rampant in the sagebrush. Environmentalists argued only strict guidelines on grazing and development would ultimately save the species. Meanwhile, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service set new policies for oil and gas exploration in sage grouse habitats.
Erik Molvar, spokesman for WildEarth Guardians, said Jewell's announcement heralded an "epic conservation failure."
“The sage grouse faces huge problems from industrial development and livestock grazing across the West, and now the Interior Department seems to be squandering a major opportunity to put science before politics and solve these problems,” said Molvar, who is also a wildlife biologist.
Groups such as the Environmental Defense Fund and National Audubon Society heralded the announcement as a "new lease on life" for the sagebrush ecosystem.
“Unprecedented cooperation by private landowners, states and the federal government has created a framework for conservation at a scale unique in the world,” said David Yarnold, president of the Audubon Society in a prepared statement.