Conservation Groups Plan Suit To Protect Western Game Bird

Bi-state sage grouse ( Fish & Wildlife Service )

Conservation groups say they intend to sue the Trump Administration to protect a rare game bird along the California-Nevada border. The bi-state sage grouse, a hen-sized bird similar but separate to the greater sage grouse, was slated to be added to the Endangered Species List after a proposal approved in 2018.

In March, however, the Fish and Wildlife Service (F&WS) reversed course and abandoned the listing, according to the Associate Press. Three conservation groups, the Center for Biological Diversity, WildEarth Guardians and the Western Watersheds Project, filed formal notice last week of their intent to seek a court to force the Trump Administration to add the bird to the ESA.

The greater sage grouse is found in a dozen Western states and is central to dispute over the government’s efforts to roll back protections adopted by the Obama Administration. The F&WS estimates the bi-state grouse population is half what it was 150 years ago along the eastern front of the Sierra Nevada. Anywhere from 330 to 3,305 are believed to remain across 7,000 square miles of high desert sagebrush stretching from Carson City to Yosemite National Park.

Threats to the bird include urbanization, livestock grazing and wildfires. F&WS rejected listing petitions twice during the Bush Administration, then formally proposed threatened status in 2013 before abandoning that proposal two years later. A U.S. judge in San Francisco found in 2018 the agency had illegally denied protection to the bird and ordered a re-evaluation of its status. That brought the latest proposal for protection, which the Trump Administration withdrew.

F&WS says its latest review indicates the population has improved, thanks in large part to voluntary protection measures adopted by state agencies, local ranchers and other interested third parties.

Conservationists say voluntary efforts fall short of what’s necessary to comply with the law.

“We’ve watched for more than a decade as voluntary measures failed to do enough to help these birds survive,” said Ileene Anderson, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Without the legal protection of the Endangered Species Act, multiple threats will just keep pushing these unique grouse toward extinction,” she said.

The Eastern Sierra Land Trust based in Bishop, Calif., is among those that disagree.

The coalition of ranchers, private landowners, tribal land managers and others has been active in local partnerships working to improve grouse habitat. It said the service’s March decision was a testament to their success.

“In the case of the bi-state sage-grouse, our uniquely local and collaborative approach is working without the need for the Endangered Species Act,” the trust told the Associate Press.