Oil and Sage Grouse Grousing

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The greater sage grouse has bedeviled Texas oil and gas companies trying to drill in the high plains of the western United States for more than a decade.

In September Interior Secretary, Sally Jewell announced that her agency would not place the grouse on the federal endangered species list that would block drilling on the bird’s expansive habitat.

But, an alternative federal conservation plan has set off a whole new fight. Conservationists argue that a sweeping sage grouse conservation effort that the government announced is riddled with loopholes and will not be enough to protect the bird from extinction, according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Idaho.

On the other side of the political spectrum several legal challenges have been filed against the same rules. Mining companies, ranchers and officials in Utah, Idaho and Nevada argue that the administration’s actions will impede economic development.

Western lawmakers are complaining that a far-off bureaucracy is trying to make rules for a region it doesn’t know or understand.

The Bureau of Land Management has identified 67 million acres of federal lands as sage grouse territory, capping the amount of land that can be drilled for gas, grazed by cattle or sited for a wind farm at 3.5 million acres.

Sage brush, in which the grouse nest, was decimated by overgrazing of cattle and sheep throughout the 1990s and later by oil and gas drilling, mining and other development.

The ground-dwelling sage grouse, known for their elaborate mating ritual, range across a 257,000-square-mile region spanning 11 states.

Oil and gas lease sales across the West have been delayed while the new conservation rules are finalized.

It is interesting to note that listing the sage grouse as endangered is not supported by every environmental group. The sage grouse was an obscure species for many years. Some conservationists are surprised the bird has inspired so much passion.

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