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Nevada wildlife director comments on greater sage-grouse listing decision

By ThisIsReno

SUBMITTED NEWS RELEASE

Today the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced its decision on the petition for listing greater sage-grouse. The decision was “warranted but precluded” which would place greater sage-grouse on the list of “candidate species” across its range in the 11 western states and two provinces.   In addition, the USFWS announced that the Bi-State population of greater sage–grouse meets the criteria for designation as a Distinct Population Segment, with a listing priority number of three, which means that the species could be listed within three to five years.

Nevada Department of Wildlife Director Ken Mayer said he was disappointed in the decisions. “The western states fish and wildlife agencies, individual volunteers and planning groups have worked hard to identify the problems and find solutions to improve conditions for the bird, but it is hard to ignore the fact that 55% of greater sage-grouse exist on federal lands. It’s unfortunate, but this may be the wakeup call that is needed to put the measures in place that are needed to keep the bird from being listed.

“This outcome shows that based on science, the bird is in trouble across its range.  It also states that cooperative conservation is the recommended action. That means we need all of the conservation partners in the state to step up to protect and restore the sagebrush ecosystem. The sagebrush ecosystem has been identified as an imperiled ecosystem. It is going to take a huge effort to improve and restore habitat, and protect the bird to stave off a threatened listing,” Mayer said.

“But there is also ample opportunity here. If nothing is done, we can count on greater sage-grouse being listed; if we get busy, we can still save the bird.”

The announcement noted a listing priority number of 8 for the greater sage-grouse in the 11 Western States, and a level priority number of 3 for the distinct population segment of the greater sage-grouse population in the Bi-state area of Nevada and California, which includes portions of Carson City, Lyon, Mineral, Esmeralda, and Douglas Counties in Nevada, as well as portions of Alpine, Inyo, and Mono Counties in California. Listing priority numbers are ordered 1-12, with 1 as the highest priority, and 12 as the lowest.

The decision to list a species as “warranted but precluded” means data supports listing under the Endangered Species Act but that listing the species at this time is precluded by the need to address higher priority species first. Currently 150 species have a higher priority than greater sage- grouse on the rangewide decision, and 60 species have a higher priority than the Distinct Population Segment sage-grouse population.

Warranted but precluded proposals require subsequent one-year findings on each succeeding anniversary of the petition until either a proposal to list the species is undertaken or a “not warranted” petition finding is made. Species must be re-evaluated annually by experts to identify whether conditions for the species are better or are worse; that review can drive a change in the listing priority number.

To date, the Nevada Department of Wildlife has lead a sustained effort to support greater sage-grouse, first through development of the Greater Sage-grouse Conservation Plan for Nevada and Eastern California, which was completed in June 2004, then through implementation of the projects identified in the plan. The Governor’s Sage Grouse-Team, made up of state and federal resource partners, ranchers, farmers, tribal members, and local government representatives, has played an integral role in sage-grouse conservation in the state since the group’s inception in 1999. The group continues to meet on a bi-monthly basis, and recently completed the document  “Energy and Infrastructure Development Standards to Conserve Greater Sage-grouse”, which will assist energy developers in understanding the habitat needs of sage-grouse, and identifies distances from disturbance that are necessary to preclude impacts to sage-grouse nesting and lek sites, as well as other sensitive greater sage-grouse habitats.

NDOW Director Ken Mayer’s comments on the listing priority of 3 for the Bi-state Distinct Population Segment of Greater Sage-Grouse population: (Portions of Carson City, Lyon, Mineral, Esmeralda, and Douglas Counties in Nevada, and in portions of Alpine, Inyo, and Mono Counties in California.)

“This level of listing priority shows a strong concern about the ability of the local population of birds to continue to exist,” said Mayer. “We are aware that this is a distinct population segment, with a different genetic make-up.  We do question whether a subspecies should be subjected to this high of a priority. This level of federal scrutiny could alter our ability to manage the species, and we are concerned that a listing could impact other activities in the area, such as mining or ranching. Nevertheless, if we work together as partners, I’m hopeful we can turn the tide away from listing.”

Sage-grouse hunting in the Bi-state Distinct Population Segment was closed in 1999. These populations have experienced a downward trend since 2005 similar to hunted populations, even though human harvest has not been a factor. In addition Lincoln County and Pershing County as well as portions of Humboldt, White Pine, Lander and Elko Counties in northern Nevada have recently closed to greater sage-grouse hunting.

Threats

The range-wide listing states that habitat loss and/or degradation due to wildfire, invasive species, energy development, agriculture and urbanization, as well as the lack of regulatory mechanisms are the primary threats to Greater Sage-Grouse. In Nevada, the Greater Sage-grouse Conservation Plan identified wildfire, degraded sage brush habitat, pinyon-juniper encroachment, and historic overuse by horses and livestock as core threats.

NDOW Recommendations

The Nevada Department of Wildlife is recommending the following conservation actions to support Greater Sage-Grouse populations statewide:

  • Continue aggressive initial fire attack in crucial sage-grouse habitat.
  • Be more aggressive with combating invasive species, especially cheatgrass, within existing sagebrush habitats;
  • Continue to reduce pinyon and juniper woodland encroachment into sagebrush habitats where appropriate;
  • Improve the condition of degraded wet meadows and springs within greater sage-grouse habitats;
  • Enhance interagency and local partnerships and planning efforts year round; conduct landscape-scale, aggressive fire restoration and rehabilitation activities;
  • Encourage land management agencies to include adequate buffer zones for wildlife around all types of development to reduce disturbance from energy, infrastructure and mining developments on public lands;
  • Develop a consistent source of funding for the necessary planning and restoration efforts needed.

“The Nevada Department of Wildlife will continue to seek funding and advocate for healthy sagebrush ecosystems, while at the same time working with local, federal and private partners to develop and implement projects to reduce threats and enhance habitat for the species,” said Mayer.

The Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) protects, restores and manages fish and wildlife, and promotes fishing, hunting, and boating safety. NDOW’s wildlife and habitat conservation efforts are primarily funded by sportsmen’s license and conservation fees and a federal surcharge on hunting and fishing gear. Support wildlife and habitat conservation in Nevada by purchasing a hunting, fishing, or combination license. For more information, visit www.ndow.org.

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