No federal protection for the greater sage grouse

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced today that the greater sage grouse does not require protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Once upon a time, this bird “darkened the skies,” she says in the video above. But no longer, of course. Now, the sage brush landscape where these creatures dwell is used for a thriving Western economy: ranching, recreation and energy.

When she says the word “energy,”  the video cuts to windmills – notably, not fracking wells that speckle the West, spewing out flames and sometimes making tap water explode.

“This vast landscape is suffering death by a thousand cuts,” Jewell says with Shakespearean flourish. “Longer, hotter fire seasons have eliminated millions of acres. Invasive species are pushing out native vegetation. And development is fragmenting the land. By many measures, the sage grouse serves as the pulse of this imperiled ecosystem.”

The bird’s population has plummeted by 90 percent, sparking the largest land conservation effort in U.S. history. And as Jewell tells it, an unlikely cohort of ranchers, sportsmen, environmentalists and industry came together to protect the grouse — giving the bird a “bright future.”

“With climate change and an expanding population, the stresses on our land, water and wildlife aren’t going away.”

But Jewell remains optimistic. “We have shown that epic collaboration across a landscape guided by sound science is truly the future of American conservation.”

In other words, the private sector will save us – or at least these poor, besmirched birds.

The response to the announcement has been largely positive.

Celebrating the political forsight and leadership of President Barack Obama, Gov. John Hickenlooper and Jewell, Conservation Colorado’s Executive Director Pete Maysmith touted the sage-grouse plan in a release: “The scope and scale of this unprecedented effort is astounding.  It highlights that through collaboration, diverse interests can achieve unbelievable results – focusing on a shared goal and not our perceived differences.”

Colorado’s U.S. senators took the news with glee.

In a statement, Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet wrote:

“Today’s announcement is a testament to the tireless work of our local communities, along with the state, to enhance conservation efforts.  Colorado farmers, ranchers, local governments, conservationists, and community members have worked for years to find innovative ways to protect sage grouse habitat.  This decision ends the uncertainty hanging over the heads of families, farms, and businesses on the western slope.  It’s also another reminder that Coloradans can work together to develop commonsense solutions to difficult problems that can serve as a model for the nation. Now it’s important that the collaboration and hard work continue to effectively and successfully implement the state, federal and voluntary plans in a way that works for everyone.”

And Republican Sen. Cory Gardner wrote:

“Keeping the greater sage-grouse from being listed as an endangered species has always been my goal, and I’m glad Secretary Jewell arrived at the same conclusion. Greater sage-grouse populations are increasing, and I commend the collaborative efforts from stakeholders to keep this bird from being listed. While land use management is best handled by local groups, landowners and state leaders, I will be closely monitoring the implementation of the federal land-use management plans on our public lands in Northwest Colorado and across the West.”

Despite this bipartisan love fest, Jeremy Nichols of Wildearth Guardians took to Twitter to condemn the decision, arguing that it would keep the feds from limiting the oil and gas industry:

Photo credit: USFWS Mountain-Prairie, Creative Commons, Flickr