Friday, June 20, 2014

Utah aims to delay federal decision on sage grouse

Utah wants more time to prove no further federal intervention is needed to protect the state's dwindling sage grouse population, throwing $2 million into the effort to retain control of the bird's habitat. Legislators on Tuesday are expected to discuss a push to postpone the September 2015 deadline for a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision on possibly listing the bird as endangered. The move could bring restrictions on thousands of acres of state land. Utah is among a number of Western states challenging federal science on the bird's conservation status, saying greater sage grouse face no immediate danger of extinction. It contends 500,000 birds are scattered across 60 million acres in the West. Conservationists are pushing for greater habitat protections, squaring off against ranchers, miners and oil and gas executives who operate on public lands. Some have said politics have no place in the scientific debate. Utah lawmakers say they don't need to outlaw ranching, mining and energy development to protect the football-size birds known for puffing up in elaborate mating dances. The state has awarded hunter and lawyer Ryan Benson a $2 million contract to lobby Congress in the effort to delay the decision on the endangered listing, the Salt Lake Tribune reported. To retain oversight of the bird's management, the state Department of Natural Resources plans to kick off the one-year contract with Benson's company, Stag Consulting, starting July 1. Meanwhile, federal authorities issued a moratorium Tuesday blocking oil, gas and coal leasing on 800,000 acres of public land in southwestern Colorado and a sliver of eastern Utah that is home to another species of sage grouse. But Utah officials say its conservation plan, which has been in place for a year, is working...more

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