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Federal Officials: Sage-Grouse Not Endangered
Utah has been counting sage-grouse since 1965.

Tuesday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ruled that the greater sage-grouse will not need special protection under the Endangered Species Act. The FWS made its decision after evaluating the collective work done by federal, state, and private partners in what has become the largest land conservation effort in U.S. history. 

Utah State University professor Terry Messmer, who studies sage-grouse populations, said that while the decision is encouraging, the work has just begun.

“The key thing about this decision today, what it really did is it validated the state’s management and process in terms of looking at conservation of sage grouse and the system that it relies on,” Messmer said. “We’ve basically been preparing for a marathon. At this point, with the decision, the marathon has actually started. Now, the states and other partners need to work together and to demonstrate clearly that this was the right decision.”

While sage-grouse numbers in Utah have been intensely monitored since the 1990’s, the species was first considered for ESA protection in 2010. Habitat loss and fragmentation were considered the main threats to sage-grouse survival. Messmer said that a working partnership between public and private landowners has been crucial in preserving habitat.

“Landowner ownership of the process has been pivotal. In many cases landowners were the initial ones who put together and were the leaders in in some of these local groups to get things started,” he said. “They’ve had very, very good support from the state fish and wildlife agencies and some of the federal and private partners. The focus has to be based on maintaining the habitat. Working with those individuals that have the ability to affect that habitat has been paramount.”

Utah Republican Rep. Rob Bishop criticized the announcement as concealing Obama administration limits on Western land development.