Conservation groups plan lawsuit over lack of bi-state sage grouse listing
The announcement that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service does not plan endangered species protections for a bird inhabiting the wilderness along the Nevada-California border has prompted a call for a lawsuit.
A coalition of conservation groups filed a formal notice on Wednesday day of their intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for its failure to protect the imperiled Bi-State sage grouse population under the Endangered Species Act despite ongoing population declines.
“This is an example of politics trumping science while the extinction of a unique population of sage grouse hangs in the balance,” said Ileene Anderson, senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “As we have seen for more than a decade, voluntary measures are not enough; without the legal protections of the Endangered Species Act multiple threats continue to push the bi-state sage grouse closer to population collapse.”
About 17 grouse were found living in the Pine Nut Mountains in Douglas County, according to the Bi-State Local Area Working Group 2019 report.
Aerial surveys by the Nevada Department of Wildlife and volunteers found three active leks in the Pine Nuts with one serving a dozen birds and another with around five.
Most of the estimated 3,305 bi-state sage grouse live further south.
The working group reported there were declines in population over the past six years, those were offset by growth between 2008-2011.
“It is believed a majority of the bi-state population occupies the Bodie Hills and Long Valley areas,” the report said.
The U.S. Geological Survey has been capturing and tagging birds to track their population and survival rates.
While several challenges face the birds’ survival, one major threat is wildfire.
The working group’s goal is to preserve the bird without invoking endangered species status.
The grouse was originally proposed for listing as threatened in 2013, but the Fish and Wildlife Service abandoned the proposal in 2015.
In 2018 a federal court found the agency had wrongly denied Endangered Species Act protection to the bi-state sage grouse and required the agency to re-evaluate the bird’s situation. In 2018, the bi-state sage grouse were again proposed for protection, but in 2020 the administration withdrew its proposal.
Efforts to protect the birds, include flagging of barbed-wire fencing in cattle and sheep pastures and vegetation treatments.
The conservation groups are Desert Survivors, the Center for Biological Diversity, Western Watersheds Project and WildEarth Guardians, and are represented by attorneys from the Center for Biological Diversity and the Stanford Law Clinic.