In a speech at the Rocky Mountain National Wildlife Refuge, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced yesterday that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) will not list the greater sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Finding that protection under the ESA is no longer warranted due to an “unprecedented conservation partnership,” the USFWS announced that it was withdrawing the species from the candidate list. The decision comes roughly a week before a court-ordered deadline for a decision.
Although the Service has claimed a “wildlife win,” broadcasting its announcement via Twitter with a video explaining why the decision is historic due to unprecedented conservation efforts by states, local governments, Federal land management agencies, and private landowners, the picture remains complicated and uncertain due to the mosaic of evolving state and federal land management plans that address sage grouse across the West. The Forest Service and BLM plans, finalized in September 2015, remain to be implemented, so the potential impact to activities and development on public land is particularly uncertain. Industry groups, including the American Mining and Exploration Association, fear that the restrictions contained in the plans could have a significant impact on access to and development on public lands.
Although this may be a “wildlife win,” the USFWS decision yesterday is by no means the end of the greater sage-grouse saga. The decision will almost certainly be challenged and, through the state and federal land management plans, the greater sage-grouse will remain a significant factor in whether and to what extent activities and projects are able to move forward in many areas in the West. For landowners and project proponents hoping to understand what regulatory mechanisms apply to a proposed activity or project, a good starting point is the USFWS state-specific fact sheets, which provide an overview of the state and federal plans that apply with the state. Click through to the specific fact sheets here: California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wyoming.