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iWild: For more see iWild.org


“Warranted but precluded”: That was the word this week from Ken Salazar on Today’s Endangered All-Star, the Greater Sage Grouse, a species that the US Fish and Wildlife Service now says deserves listing on the ESA but is going to have to take a back seat to all the other endangered species that Salazar’s agency has failed to list. (The grouse joins some 270 species on the ESA backlog). Prompted by a lawsuit filed in 2006 by the Idaho-based Western Watersheds Project, the government acknowledged that listing was “warranted” but argued that voluntary measures taken by western states have stabilized the species decline. The problem with that argument is that the decline has been so drastic and precipitous—the birds’ numbers have fallen by over ninety percent in recent decades and the size of their habitat cut in half—that these spectacular birds, which return over and over again to the same lekking grounds to engage in their elaborate mating dance, need more than the tolerance of a few drilling companies. Jon Marvel, of WWP, claims that pressure from oil and natural gas interests, as well as from the wind energy industry influenced this decision. Katie Fite, the group’s biodiversity director, said in a press release: “The only way sage-grouse will survive is if large areas of the sagebrush sea are left undeveloped, and chronic disturbances like livestock grazing are removed from those areas. This sad delay will make it much more difficult to effectively conserve this magnificent bird.” The group is now reviewing the decision to determine if the Interior Department is breaking the law. After adding only two species to the ESA list in 2009, the USFWS announced a flurry of new listings at the beginning of 2010, but—interestingly—the listings seem designed to avoid controversy within the U.S.: All of them concern foreign species, including a number of South American birds, such as the Galapagos Petrol. During an election year, apparently, American birds will just have to get in line. Some politicians begrudge them even that. Utah congressman, Republican Jason Chaffetz, was quoted in the New York Times, saying: “The only good place for a sage grouse to be listed is on the menu of a French bistro. It does not deserve federal protection, period.” For those who feel otherwise, there is a beautiful video of the sage grouse dance at the WWP website. And Trevor Herriot’s Grass Notes blog offers some brilliant photographs of the lekking grounds at Canada’s Grasslands National Park, as well as information about this naturalist’s new book, Grass, Sky, Song: Promise and Peril in the World of Grassland Birds.
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