By Marc Campopiano and Gunnar Gundersen

On April 21, 2015, Sally Jewell, the Secretary of the Department of the Interior, announced that a sub-population of greater sage-grouse along the California-Nevada border does not require Endangered Species Act protection.

In 2010, the US Fish and Wildlife Service declared the bi-state population of greater sage-grouse a “distinct population segment” under the ESA because it has significant genetic differences from other greater sage-grouse. The population had declined significantly from urbanization, encroachment of sagebrush by conifers, and a cycle of wildfire and fire-adapted invasive grasses.

A key factor in the Department’s decision not to list the grouse was the development of the “Bi-State Action Plan,” a conservation plan developed by multiple federal, state and private participants. The plan established population monitoring, urbanization abatement measures, livestock management, wild horse management, pinyon and juniper removal, disease and predation studies and other habitat improvement and restoration projects. Secretary Jewell said, “Thanks in large part to the extraordinary efforts of all the partners in the working group to address threats to greater sage-grouse and its habitat in the Bi-State area, our biologists have determined that this population no longer needs ESA protection.” Secretary Jewell cited the plan as “proof that we can conserve sagebrush habitat across the West while we encourage sustainable economic development.”

Notably, the Service continues to conduct a separate, more far-reaching review of the greater sage-grouse across its 11-state range in the western United States. The Service must complete that review by September 30, 2015, in accordance with a 2011 court-ordered settlement. The deadline is based on a stipulated settlement between the Service and WildEarth Guardians, which sued the Service to evaluate 251 candidate species.

If the Service ultimately lists the greater sage-grouse as a threatened or endangered species, the listing would require federal agencies that carry out, permit, license, fund or authorize activities that may affect the grouse to consult with the Service under Section 7 of the ESA to ensure that those activities are not “likely to jeopardize the continued existence” of the greater sage-grouse.  Also, for non-federal actions, Section 9 of the ESA would disallow any project that would result in a taking of the greater sage-grouse unless the developer obtains a Habitat Conservation Plan under Section 10 of the ESA.

Several industries could be affected by a listing, including the energy sector. For example, according to a report by Temple Stoellinger from the University of Wyoming, “81.7 percent of the total gas produced and 86.6 percent of the total coal produced in Wyoming was located within” the sage-grouse’s habitat in 2012.