Sage grouse can be success story
December 16, 2004
The sage grouse, which some feared might join the spotted owl as a symbol of overreaching environmental protection, should instead become a symbol of reasonable and forward-thinking conservation stewardship.
If it survives.
A recent report by Interior Department biologists recommended against placing the sage grouse on the endangered species list. A final decision is yet to come.
The simple facts: Grouse numbers have declined dramatically over the past 100 years, from 2 million to about 200,000. Its range spreads across 770,000 square miles and 11 states. Sagebrush is its primary habitat.
The battle lines are equally clear: Developers and the energy industry on one side, claiming an endangers species designation will wreck the economy. On the other side are environmentalists who say without the listing, one of America’s most important game birds will be lost forever.
Fortunately, there is a great deal of room in the middle of this debate. That’s where important work has been done in the past few years – including by Nevada’s Wildlife Division – to research the causes of the grouse’s decline and the best means to reverse it.
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The sage grouse can become the success story of the West.
It will take cooperation among government agencies, environmental groups and industries. It will take compromise – by builders willing to alter their plans enough to provide habitat, by environmentalists allowing development to go on where it’s appropriate, by bureaucrats willing to take the time to find creative solutions.
Clearly, more time spent working on the ground than arguing in courtrooms would help every threatened species. The Endangered Species Act, with all its flaws, has the power to mobilize a lot of counterproductive forces.
The grouse doesn’t belong on the endangered list – not yet. The goal of both sides should be to keep it off the list by agreeing to the best practices on federal land so energy development and grouse habitat exist side by side.
If the sage grouse thrives, so will the cooperation. If not, the need for endangered-species listing will have been proven.