Colorado, Utah Lose Court Battle To Lift Fed Protections From Sage Grouse

Tim Pearce | Energy Reporter

A federal judge upheld the Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) decision to list the Gunnison sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) after two states sued to have the bird removed.

U.S. District Court Judge Christine Arguello ruled against Colorado and Utah, which had sued the federal government over the decision to list the sage grouse as “threatened,” despite the states’ efforts to protect the species. (RELATED: Report: Feds Are Lowballing The Cost Of Protecting Endangered Species By Billions Of Dollars)

“Substantial evidence supports that the near-extinction of the six satellite populations, coupled with the declining Gunnison Basin population, causes the entire species to face extinction ‘in the foreseeable future,'” Arguello wrote, quoting the ESA.

“The Court finds that the Service’s decision to list the Gunnison sage grouse as threatened and designate land as its critical habitat was not arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, without observance of the required procedures, or otherwise contrary to law,” Arguello concluded.

The Gunnison sage grouse is a related species to, but separate from, the greater sage grouse, which has not been listed under the ESA but runs on a significantly larger habitat spanning 11 states. The greater sage grouse avoided listing because of widespread state, local and private efforts to help the bird recover.

“Obviously, we’re disappointed the court did not recognize the efforts of Gunnison County, the landowners and the state to protect the Gunnison sage grouse,” Colorado governor senior adviser John Swartout told E&E News. “We’ve done everything they’ve asked and more.”

Colorado has spent roughly $60 million on Gunnison sage grouse protection and recovery programs, some of that at the order of the federal government.

“We’re relieved that desperately needed protection for these unique birds will stand,” Center for Biological Diversity staff attorney Ryan Shannon said in a statement. “Now it’s time for federal wildlife officials to focus on recovering this critically imperiled species. We need quick action or the West will lose these birds forever.”

Republicans in Congress and the Trump administration are launching a two-pronged effort to reform the ESA, a particularly powerful environmental law. While the law is viewed favorably by the general public, farmers and ranchers often complain about the strict regulations that are attached to protecting threatened and endangered species.

A species is almost never removed once listed.

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