Congressional Budget Bill Could Change The Future Of Idaho, Western Sage Grouse

Dec 10, 2014

The greater sage grouse is the largest grouse species in North America. The chicken-like bird has a long tail with spiky tail feathers.
Credit USFWS

The future of the greater sage grouse, already uncertain, may get even murkier because Congress is considering delaying protections for the Western bird.

Congress is considering a $1.1 trillion spending bill that would keep the federal government from shutting down. A legislative rider in the bill would put the brakes on protecting the bird.

The Obama administration was facing a September 2015 deadline to decide whether to list the sage grouse as an endangered species. But the spending bill’s rider says the administration can't spend any money next year on rules to protect it.

The struggling bird is threatened by human activity, including oil drilling. The Associated Press reports that western lawmakers say "the region's economy would suffer if protections were put in place." But the AP reports that environmental groups contend a delay in sage grouse protection could have "irreversible impacts across the bird's 11-state range, which includes Idaho."

Sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) once were abundant in sagebrush habitats of the western United States and Canada. Unfortunately, the bird and its habitat have declined in abundance. Sagebrush habitat is so important to sage grouse that the loss of this habitat has hurt these birds in large parts of the western rangelands. It's basic - sage-grouse need good-quality sagebrush habitat and without it they can't survive. Fire, invasive species, and human activities have all destroyed sagebrush habitat. – Idaho Fish and Game

Idaho has been working to increase sage grouse numbers as far back as 1997, through a conservation plan. It was replaced with an updated plan in 2006. And in 2012, Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter created a sage grouse task force to try and prevent federal protection for the birds in Idaho.

The Western Values Project is disappointed with Congress’ move, calling it “profoundly misguided.”

Congressional leaders' agreement dealing with sage-grouse and the Fish and Wildlife Service disregarded the Department of Interior's guidance and the will of western voters. Western voters and stakeholders have made it clear that they demand immediate action on the Greater sage-grouse of their leaders. – Western Values Project

The group says the rider ignores the wishes of the Department of the Interior and the American West.

The uncertain future of the grouse is also affecting oil and gas development in the West. Tuesday, all but one of 97 new oil and gas leases, offered for auction in Nevada, went unsold. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management told the AP that concern over federal protection of the bird has scared off bidders from the oil and gas industry. Earlier this year, an Idaho wind farm was scrapped because of concerns over a federal listing.

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