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California, Nevada Population of Sage Grouse Proposed for Endangered Species Act Protection
RENO, Nev. - October 25 - As the result of a settlement agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed Endangered Species Act protection today for the “bi-state” population of the greater sage grouse found in the Mono Basin of California and Nevada. The agency also proposed designating 1,868,017 acres of protected “critical habitat” to help the population, which has declined by up to 70 percent.
“The sage grouse we have here in Nevada and California is a true symbol of all that is wild — what a relief that it’s finally getting the protection it needs to survive,” said Rob Mrowka, a Nevada-based ecologist at the Center. “These birds are facing so many threats that Endangered Species Act protection really can’t come too soon.”
The bi-state population is the southwestern-most population of the greater sage grouse and is geographically isolated and genetically distinct. It is found in Storey, Carson, Douglas, Mineral and Esmeralda counties in Nevada and in Mono, and Alpine and Inyo counties in California. The decision today is a precursor to a decision to protect greater sage grouse across the West, expected in 2015.
Primary threats to sage grouse include degradation of habitat by livestock grazing and invasive noxious weeds, fragmentation of habitat caused by urban and energy development, roads and transmission lines, motorized recreation in courtship and nesting areas, drought and loss of sagebrush due to the encroachment of junipers.
“Because the bi-state sage grouse exists at the periphery of the species’ range and is genetically unique, it contains characteristics that could be critically important to the survival of the greater sage grouse as a whole, particularly in light of climate change,” said Mrowka.
The Center and allies petitioned to protect the bi-state sage grouse as an endangered species in 2005. It was placed on the candidate list in 2010. In 2011 the Center and the Fish and Wildlife Service reached a settlement to expedite protection decisions for 757 species across the country. More than 100 species have been protected under the agreement to date.
The public has 60 days to comment on today’s proposal. The Service is expected to issue a final listing rule for the sage grouse in one year.
Like other sage grouse, bi-state sage grouse are noted for their elaborate spring courtship rituals and displays. Males and females gather on traditional display areas called leks. To attract willing females, males strut, fan their tail feathers and produce a haunting sound from air sacs located on the sides of their necks.