(CN) – The federal government is moving forward with a plan to put the sage grouse on an endangered species waiting list. More than 20 species have gone extinct while waiting for protection, a group fighting for the sage grouse claims.
The Fish and Wildlife Service last week issued the results of a yearly status review on the sage grouse, showing that the species is warranted for endangered listing but precluded by higher-priority species.
Once numbering in the hundreds of thousands in sagebrush habitat across the West, the sage grouse has declined due to habitat fragmentation, overgrazing, invasive weeds and fire. Oil and gas development, in particular proposals for drilling across vast areas in Wyoming, also pose a threat to the species.
Environmentalists first petitioned for an endangered listing in 2003, to which the Fish and Wildlife Service responded in 2005 that a listing was not warranted.
The Western Watersheds Project challenged this, leading to a 2007 ruling that the service used a flawed process and inadequate science to come to its decision. The ruling also cited political interference from Bush administration officials as a factor that inappropriately affected the 2005 decision.
The sage grouse was among several species cited in a Department of Interior Inspector General report indicating that Deputy Assistant Secretary Julie MacDonald exerted improper influence preventing the listing of several high-profile species.
In March this year, the service issued a “warranted but precluded” decision, meaning the bird deserved endangered species status, but had to go on a waiting list due to alleged budgetary restrictions and higher-priority species.
Oil companies hailed the decision, as an endangered species listing would likely affect development of claims across the West.
But the Western Watersheds Project warns that allowing the sage grouse to linger on the candidate species list could have dire consequences. Even if a 50 listings-per-year goal is attained, it could take up to 48 years for all species already on the waiting list to be listed, according to the Department of the Interior Office of Inspector General. The Center for Biological Diversity says that 24 species waiting on the list have become extinct since 1980.
The Fish and Wildlife Service stated that it endeavors to make listing decisions as efficient and timely as possible, citing budgetary limitations in stating that the finding constitutes “expeditious progress” on listing as required under the Endangered Species Act.
Only the Bush Sr. and Clinton presidential administrations have actually made expeditious progress on listing species, endangered species advocate the Center for Biological Diversity says.
The group recently filed or amended lawsuits for 100 species, claiming that the Obama administration is dragging its feet on issuing endangered species decisions.
Male sage grouse raise a fan of pointed brown feathers on their tail and inflate sacs on their neck during courtship. The sage-grouse can act as an indicator species for the health of sagebrush ecosystems.