co-authored by Robert Thornton

After seeking a week’s delay, the Fish and Wildlife Service has announced that the greater sage grouse warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act, but listing is currently precluded by higher priority species.  The Service is placing the greater sage grouse on the candidate list for future action.  Until then, the species would not receive any protection under the ESA. 

In its finding (PDF), the Service stated there are several factors contributing to the destruction or modification of the greater sage grouse’s habitat, including the increasing degradation and fragmentation of sagebrush habitats due to conversion for agriculture, urbanization, infrastructure, grazing, and nonrenewable and renewable energy development.  If current trends persist, many local populations may disappear in the next several decades, with the remaining fragmented population vulnerable to extinction.  The Service plans "to continue to work cooperatively with private landowners to conserve the candidates species.  This includes financial and technical assistance, and the ability to develop conservation agreements that provide regulatory assurances to landowners who take actions to benefit the species." 

The Bureau of Land Management ("BLM"), which manages the majority of greater sage grouse habitat, has issued guidance (PDF) to address actions in "priority" sage grouse habitat.  For example:

  • BLM will re-route proposed transmission projects to avoid priority habitat;
  • For new oil shale lease applications, BLM may impose lease stipulations and project conditions of approval that designate avoidance areas;
  • New right-of-way applications for wind and solar energy development may be denied or terms and conditions may be imposed on the right-of-way grant to protect priority habitat as supported by analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act. 

BLM has also issued a FAQ