Udall and other Colorado lawmakers pushed for the Obama administration to delay a decision on a far less prevalent species, the Gunnison sage grouse, until after the November elections. Federal land managers have already declared more than 400,000 acres off-limits to development to protect that bird. The Western Governors Association last month urged the federal government to defer to states on protecting the bird.
The administration announced last month that it would spend $32 million over 10 years helping ranchers in Nevada and California preserve the bird's habitat.
Industry leaders and environmental groups agree that the grouse can be protected without serious economic damage. Some point to Wyoming, the state with the greatest amount of both energy exploration and grouse, which has put in place a plan to conserve the bird's core habitat.
"It's based on sound science and helps us advance meaningful conservation of the species," said Jerimiah Rieman, energy and natural resources policy director for Gov. Matt Mead, R-Wyo.
Gardner, the Republican congressman from Colorado, and others opposed to a listing point to Wyoming as an example of why states should take the lead. "The states are working right now very diligently," Gardner said. "Once you list it, there's sort of a wall that comes down between people."
But environmentalists say the proposal amounts to a needless delay. Even Democrats who argue the federal government should defer to states don't support the Republican legislation.
Gov. John Hickenlooper, D-Colo., has warned against listing the bird and led a task force of Western governors who are trying to deal with the issue. A spokesman said Hickenlooper doesn't support the legislation because it lacks adequate bipartisan support.
Brian Rutledge, vice president of the Audubon Society's Rocky Mountain Region, said no one wants the bird to be listed but that the Endangered Species Act is working as intended in this case, to push local agencies to do conservation.
He was dismissive of the Republican proposal. "A lot of this," he said, "is just pandering."
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