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Feds Refuse Protection for Imperiled Columbian Sharp-tailed Grouse

Groups will challenge the negative petition finding

Additonal Contacts: Todd Tucci, Advocates for the West, 208-342-7024 x202 Mark Salvo, Sagebrush Sea Campaign, 503-757-4221

Santa Fe, NM-The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) has denied a 2004 petition toprotect the Columbian Sharp-tailed Grouse under the Endangered Species Act. ForestGuardians and seven other conservation organizations seek federal protection for the bird,which has declined by 90 percent across its 11-state range. The decision will be publishedin tomorrow’s Federal Register.

“The Service’s decision is a serious blow to this imperiled grouse. The Columbian SharptailedGrouse urgently needs the vital safety net that the Endangered Species Actprovides,” stated Nicole Rosmarino of WildEarth Guardians. “With federal protection, thisgrouse could be spared from extinction,” Rosmarino continued.

WildEarth Guardians and partner organizations submitted a petition to protect the ColumbianSharp-tailed Grouse under the Endangered Species Act in October 2004. The grouse,which once ranged across 11 western states, has disappeared from over 90 percent of itshistoric range. Columbian Sharp-tailed Grouse were once described as an extremelyabundant bird in the West. Their unique mating dance is one of the most awesome animalspectacles in the West. The grouse has suffered significant declines in population anddistribution, and both its population and range continue to shrink primarily due to habitatloss and destruction.

The coalition contends the species is in danger of becoming extinct unless it is protectedunder the Endangered Species Act. Delays in listing endangered wildlife and plants haveled to species extinctions in the U.S. A recent report by the Center for BiologicalDiversity found that listing delays contributed to the extinction of 42 species between1974-2004. Endangered Species Act protection has been tremendously successful forthose species that are listed, preventing the extinction of over 99% of species protectedunder the law.

“The wisdom of the Endangered Species Act is in protecting imperiled wildlife andplants while there is still a chance at recovery. If shielded from further habitat destructionand other threats, we could bring the Columbian Sharp-tailed Grouse back from thebrink,” stated Mark Salvo of the Sagebrush Sea Campaign.

The Bush Administration has a track record of refusing to protect endangered plants andanimals. While President Clinton listed 65 species per year during his administration, andPresident George H.W. Bush listed 59 species per year, the George W. BushAdministration has only listed an average of 8-9 species per year, and all of these havebeen forced through court orders.

There is growing evidence of political interference in petition findings within theDepartment of the Interior, despite the clear prohibition on considering political oreconomic factors in ESA species listing decisions. Administration records prove thatpolitical appointees at the Department of the Interior have denied protection to multiplespecies under the ESA, including the Gunnison Sage-Grouse, Gunnison’s Prairie Dog,Mountain Plover, White-tailed Prairie Dog, Roundtail Chub, Mexican Garter Snake, anda Mariana Islands plant. In most of these cases, Department of Interior Deputy AssistantSecretary Julie MacDonald or another high level official ordered biologists to reversetheir petition findings and therefore deny imperiled species federal protection. ForestGuardians will be submitting a Freedom of Information Act request on the heels oftomorrow’s Federal Register publication to determine if similar interference occurred forthis imperiled bird.

“With strong scientific support for listing, we’re concerned that this imperiled grousemay be one more victim of the Bush Administration’s illegal tampering with the scienceon endangered species protection,” stated Rosmarino. Rosmarino continued, “Politickingwith the future of species on the brink may spell extinction.”

Conservation organizations that joined with WildEarth Guardians in the original lawsuit toobtain the petition finding include: Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, Center forBiological Diversity, Center for Native Ecosystems, the Larch Company, Oregon NaturalDesert Association, the Sagebrush Sea Campaign, and Western Watersheds Project. Theorganizations were represented by attorney Todd C. Tucci of Advocates for the West.The groups will likely challenge the negative petition finding.

The Columbian Sharp-tailed Grouse is one of several imperiled grouse species that ForestGuardians is seeking to protect as part of its “Western Grouse Project.” Later this week,WildEarth Guardians and other groups will be making their annual request that, alongside thePresidential Pardon of the Thanksgiving turkey, the President “pardon” imperiled westerngrouse species by granting them federal protection. Other imperiled western grouseneeding Endangered Species Act protection are the Greater Sage-grouse, Lesser Prairie-Chicken, Gunnison Sage-grouse, and the Mono Basin area Sage-grouse. These grouseface threats similar to those affecting Columbian Sharp-tailed Grouse, primarily habitatdestruction. Protecting these birds will also benefit ecosystems they inhabit, and helprecover other imperiled native species.


 

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