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Ohio Utica Shale

Groups in West working to help greater sage grouse

By Bob Downing Published: August 19, 2014

From the Western Values Project today:

Denver, CO — Today, a diverse set of groups sent a letter to the Western Energy Alliance (WEA), an oil and gas trade group, highlighting the efforts of many environmental and conservation groups working to craft conservation plans to prevent the need to list the Greater Sage Grouse under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) while protecting the west’s economy and outdoor heritage.

WEA recently launched a public ad campaign opposing a listing of the Greater Sage Grouse under the ESA. The campaign claims that ‘environmental lawyers’ are trying to shut down the west’s economy through the courts by adding the bird to the endangered species list.

However, groups like the Wilderness Society, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, Audubon Society, Western Values Project and many more are working across the west with all stakeholders on conservation plans that protect existing rights, allow for needed new development, and commit to conservation protections sufficient to avoid the necessity of listing the Greater Sage Grouse. In fact, many have been working with the oil and gas industry for years to accomplish this goal and invite WEA to work in a similar fashion going forward.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency has another year to make a decision about the listing, but the sage grouse issue has become a hot-button on the campaign trail. Greater Sage Grouse habitat covers millions of acres of public, private and state land in the west and while the bird has lost nearly half of its habitat due to development, fire and other threats, there is a historic opportunity to advance conservation plans that protect the bird’s habitat in order to prevent a listing under the ESA.

“While it may be tempting in an election year to turn sage grouse into a political football, in reality, it is one of the few areas where we have seen stakeholders from all sides -- conservationists, energy developers, sportsmen, and landowners -- engaging in an open dialogue with public officials to forge a path forward,” said Brian Rutledge from the National Audubon Society.

As the letter points out, this strategy is already working in Wyoming, where leading oil and gas companies and other stakeholders came to the table to hammer out a conservation plan.

“While it’s not perfect, the plan proves that a collaborative approach can be effective, but only if we can put our differences aside and focus on our common ground,” said Rod Torrez of HECHO. “The longevity of our Western traditions -- and future economic growth -- depends on it.”

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