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US Rejects Protections For Greater Sage Grouse Across West

Jeannie Stafford
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
The male greater sage grouse

The U.S. Interior Department says the greater sage grouse does not need federal protections across its 11-state Western range after some limits were put on energy development and other activities.

Tuesday's announcement signals that the Obama administration believes it has struck a balance to save the widespread, ground-dwelling birds from extinction without crippling the West's economy. It follows a costly conservation effort, and could help defuse a potential political liability for Democrats heading into the 2016 election.

After a 2010 lawsuit from environmental groups forced the federal government to make a decision this month, states across the inland west created land management plans with the bird in mind. Secretary Jewell said those efforts are working thanks to what she called an "unprecedented effort" by stakeholders.

The sage grouse has declined from an estimated 16 million to no more than half a million birds. Threats to its sagebrush habitat have come from wildfire, energy development, invasive species and cattle grazing.

Federal protections could have brought much more sweeping restrictions on oil and gas drilling, grazing and other human activities from California to the Dakotas.

Republicans have seized on the issue as supposed evidence of wildlife protection laws run amok. Environmentalists who sued to force Tuesday's decision are certain to challenge it.

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