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Sage grouse protection - Feds spend $236M to help landowners protect grouse
  Sage grouse numbers in Wyoming have fallen sharply since 2006
     CASPER, Wyo. (AP) — The federal government paid $236 million to landowners in 11 states to preserve sage grouse habitat amid a debate over whether the bird should be listed as an endangered species — potentially hindering energy development and ranching.

   The Casper Star-Tribune reported Wednesday that the money was paid for conservation efforts on nearly 6,000 square miles, mostly in the West, over a four-year period.

   The U.S. Department of Agriculture provided the numbers at the request of the Western Governors’ Association.   That group argues the figures show that state and private efforts are more effective at preserving sage grouse than an endangered species designation would be.

   “Western governors believe that providing economic incentives for landowners to voluntarily participate in   greater sage-grouse conservation efforts ... is likely to achieve more efficient and cost-effective results, as well as more rapid conservation,” the group said on its website.

   The governors association said participation in the program fell off steeply in California and Nevada after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service formally proposed listing a segment of the sage grouse population as endangered.

   “It seems unlikely that landowners will want to participate in such voluntary programs when federal regulation is in place,” the group said.

   Erik Molvar of the environmental group WildEarth Guardians disputed that the USDA program is helping, at least in Wyoming.

   Sage grouse numbers in that state have fallen sharply since 2006, he said.   Wyoming Game and Fish reported in January that the number of sagegrouse males observed on “leks” — open areas where they do mating dances — fell from 44,500 in 2006 to around 18,000 in 2013. “Tell me how   throwing money at that is   putting a dent in this massive decline,” Molvar said. “What we really need to do is stop destroying sage grouse habitat.”  

   The Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to announce next year whether the sage grouse should be listed as endangered.
  ODFW file photo

  The Sage Grouse is well named, for it is found only in areas dominated by big sagebrush.

  AP photo

   A male sage grouse, above, struts at sunrise in hopes of attracting a mate on a lek near the base of the Rattlesnake Range in southwest Natrona County.




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