Grouse decision

Bi-state sage grouse is threatened species

Wildlife ecologist John Tull works to conserve native plants and animals, like the sage grouse.

Wildlife ecologist John Tull works to conserve native plants and animals, like the sage grouse.

Photo By Sage Leehey

A few weeks ago, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) made the decision to list the bi-state population of sage grouse as threatened. Now, they, the state of Nevada, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), conservation groups and others are working on a plan for Nevada should the greater sage grouse, also known as the sage hen, be listed in fall of 2015.

The bi-state population of sage grouse is one of two distinct population segments (DPS) that exist of sage grouse. The bi-state population’s habitat is separated from the larger population of sage-grouse, making it a DPS.

“The bi-state is an area of about 1.8 million acres in California and Nevada,” said wildlife ecologist John Tull. “About 500,000 of those acres are in Nevada.”

The rest of the sage grouse population is called the greater sage grouse and exists in 11 states in the West, including Nevada. FWS’s decision to list the population is in a period for comment until the end of December. After comments and suggestions are made, FWS will begin working on its plan for the bi-state sage grouse.

“Then they incorporate management guidance that includes designations for critical habitats, as well as, a whole set of regulatory permitting requirements,” Tull said. “That all plays out over a period of maybe nine to twelve months, so next fall the bird will be officially listed as threatened.”

The main thing the state, FWS, BLM, conversation groups and others are now working on is figuring out how to handle the greater sage grouse, which may be listed as threatened or endangered by fall 2015. If things do not change, FWS will likely list this population. The largest portions of the greater sage grouse population are in Nevada and Wyoming, with about 30 percent in Nevada.

“The thing that’s unique about Nevada is that the majority of our land is public land … therefore most of the sage grouse habitat is also on public land,” Tull said. “So we don’t have the tools that Wyoming has necessarily where they can develop these public/private partnerships. … Nevada struggles to pay for much of anything as a consequence, like some of these big land management plans.”

BLM also recently proposed new management regulations for all its land in range of the greater sage grouse. These regulations would place restrictions on mining, energy development, power lines, recreation and other things in areas with greater sage grouse. This proposal is also in a period for comment, and comments will be taken until Jan. 29.

There are many economic concerns in the above-mentioned industries, rural communities and others if the greater sage grouse is listed, and if Nevada does not make changes now to prevent the listing’s necessity or to prepare for it, there could be dire consequences.

“Nevada has a pretty unique history in terms of coming up with relatively pragmatic, practical solutions around both development interests and conservation,” Tull said. “We would want to see that the economic interests that are at play be able to continue to work in Nevada, so we don’t suffer anymore in terms of our economic downslide. I think we’re recovering, but it’s been slow. And sage grouse, if they’re listed, and we don’t do anything, many things would probably come to a screeching halt.”