Group works to prevent sage grouse listing

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, April 29 2012 8:58 p.m. MDT

TWIN FALLS, Idaho — A 16-member task force appointed by Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter is trying to figure out a way to dissuade the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from listing sage grouse as an endangered species.

The Times-News reports the task force has until June 1 to turn in its recommendations to Otter.

"I don't think the state would like to see a listing happen," said Sen. Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson. "I would think we're (the state) smarter now. We don't want to see a repeat of what has happened in the past."

In 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that sage grouse deserved federal protection, but other species were higher priorities. A recent legal settlement now gives the agency until 2015 to decide the bird's status — threatened or endangered or not in need of federal protection.

The task force includes members from energy industries, agriculture and conservation groups. Its meetings are open to the public and are set for Tuesday and Wednesday in Pocatello, May 3-4 in Boise, May 15 in Jerome, and May 24-25 in Idaho Falls.

The state hopes to avoid federal intervention by taking the initiative on the chicken-sized bird whose numbers have fallen dramatically in the last century.

"The good news is that the scientists say grazing isn't the main threat," said House Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, another task force member. "I don't think a lot of people know that there are some grazing techniques to control fire. It's a way to address high fuel loads, especially in the spring."

Ken Cole of the Hailey-based Western Watersheds Project said the task force doesn't have enough representation by conservation groups, and is overloaded with cattle and energy industries.

"The underlying cause for these threats is because of livestock grazing," Cole said. "I don't think they're honestly looking at that. Fish and Wildlife Service may accept these recommendations, but they will probably not work."

Jack Oyler, vice chairman for Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife-Idaho and a Filer resident, said finding a solution won't be easy.

"It's been an intense process," he said. "We've been scrutinized as individuals and scrutinized as a group. And at the end of the day, even if we come up with something, it's probably going to get sued."

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