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California Fish & Wildlife moves to protect greater sage grouse

Like their brethren in Colorado and elsewhere, California's sage grouse face habitat loss due to development, mining, wildfires and climate change.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has recommended that the greater sage grouse receive protections under the state's Endangered Species Act, after reviewing a 2022 petition from the Center for Biological Diversity. 

The agency’s report, filed with the California Fish and Game Commission, found the center’s petition provided enough scientific evidence to persuade that protecting the birds as either threatened or endangered in California is warranted.

Scientists look to greater sage grouse as an indicator species in the sagebrush ecosystem. As lekking birds, they are known for their distinctive plumage and elaborate mating dances during which males use large, inflated air sacs in their chests to make popping sounds.

A Northern California population of the bird resides in Lassen and Modoc counties, and the separate bi-state sage-grouse population is found east of the Sierra Nevada Mountains along the California-Nevada border in Inyo and Mono counties.

But the sage grouse faces risk of disappearing in California due to habitat loss and fragmentation from land development, mining, invasive species, wildfire, climate change and off-road vehicle use. Many subpopulations have numbers below the minimum population threshold, which the state says makes them increasingly isolated and at imminent risk of disappearing.

The bi-state population is genetically unique, with nearly all subpopulations at risk of being wiped out, the state reported. Only the Bodie Hills population has shown signs of strong stability in recent years.

According to the report, between 1999 and 2001 the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service received three petitions to list the greater sage grouse rangewide as endangered or threatened and began a formal status review in April 2004. The following year, the agency determined the species did not warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act. But in 2007, a federal court ruled that the finding was incorrect and remanded for reconsideration.

In Center for Biological Diversity v. California Fish and Game Commission in 2008, a California appeals court addressed the parameters of the commission’s determination of whether a petitioned action should be accepted for consideration pursuant to Fish and Game Code section, resulting in the species being designated as a candidate species. In 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that listing the greater sage grouse was warranted, but precluded by higher priority species.

On Nov. 21, 2022, the commission received the petition from the center requesting that it list the greater sage grouse as threatened or endangered throughout its range in California. 

“This report is great news for California’s beautiful dancing sage grouse,” said Ileene Anderson, a senior scientist at the center. “The ongoing declines in nearly all of the birds’ populations doesn’t bode well for them. Legal protections will help reduce threats to sage grouse and their sagebrush habitat so they don’t slide further toward extinction.”

According to the California Endangered Species Act, the commission’s next step is to determine whether to accept the recommendation and grant the birds candidate status, while the department completes an in-depth analysis of the scientific evidence. That means the birds would be legally protected during that review period.

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Categories / Environment, Government, Regional

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