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Team ready to champion sage grouse conservation

January 31, 2013 at 01:31 PM

The Associated Press

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — In Nevada’s ongoing struggle to protect the sage grouse without federal intervention, the state has selected a team of five people to champion the bird’s cause. Federal action could come with devastating side effects statewide, officials fear.

The five-member Sagebrush Ecosystem Technical Team was formed to implement the state’s plan and will meet for the first time Feb. 21. Multiple state agencies and the Sagebrush Ecosystem Council, established by Gov. Brian Sandoval earlier this year, will guide the team along the way. The state hasn’t released the names of the team’s members, and likely won’t do so until some time next week.

“Listing of the greater sage grouse on the federal Endangered Species List is a threat to our economy and culture, and the state is putting forward a plan to preclude the listing,” said Mary-Sarah Kinner, press secretary for the governor.

The sage grouse is a bird about the size of a chicken that has fallen victim to declining sagebrush habitat over recent decades. Nevada officials fear federal protection could lead to millions of acres deemed unusable for economic purposes and resource development.

“The team will design strategies and make deals to enhance specific tracts of land that could be prime habitat for the birds,” said Leo Drozdoff, director of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

Late last year, $280,000 from the general fund was appropriated to finance the team’s initial cost. The governor’s budget for the next biennium proposes using the general fund for about 25 percent of the team’s approximately $910,000 overhead.

“We want to have more than just a state plan,” Drozdoff said. “We want to be operating under action that shows real results, and we’re trying to stay aggressive through 2015 because we have a lot to do.”

The ground-dwelling birds were deemed worthy of federal protection by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2010, but other species commanded more immediate attention at the time. A later legal settlement now mandates a ruling by the federal agency on the bird’s status by 2015.

Along with conservation efforts, the team of experts in agriculture, wildlife, state lands and forestry must develop monitoring methods to prove to federal agencies that its actions are producing positive results on the range.

The Western Governors Sage Grouse Task Force, which includes Drozdoff and representatives from 11 other western states, convened in Denver this week with federal agencies to develop a concerted, holistic approach. Nevada is just one of many states that could be adversely impacted by a federal listing.

“We’re meeting to see what (other states’) strategies are, what their needs are, and how we can make the best range-wide decisions,” Drozdoff said.

The represented states fear listing sage grouse as threatened or endangered could cripple economies, threaten rural livelihood and dramatically impede mining, renewable energy and other natural resource development. Officials believe both the economies and birds can be protected if the right plan is employed.

“We want to do something that is best for the species, but is also best for multiple users out on the range,” Drozdoff said. “It’s a balancing act.”

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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