CARSON CITY, Nevada — A Nevada council hoping to prevent the listing of sage grouse as a protected species debated its next moves Monday just weeks after federal agencies identified preferred alternatives to protect the bird found in 11 states across the West.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must decide by next fall whether the chicken-size bird warrants Endangered Species Act protection.
Ranchers, miners, energy developers and state officials fear restrictions on the use of public lands in sage grouse habitat would have deep economic consequences in the rural West.
Some members of the Sagebrush Ecosystem Council and others said the alternative preferred by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service in a draft environmental impact statement released Nov. 1 is not much different than what the state proposed last year.
But there are differences, and members of the nine-member council grappled with whether the state effort should tack more in concert with the federal agencies or stand in contrast to provide more options as a final national course of action is composed.
A public comment period on the draft environmental statement runs through Jan. 29. A final environmental statement is expected in June before a decision is made in late September whether the bird warrants listing as a threatened or endangered species.
Federal officials stressed that the final environmental statement may likely consist of various aspects of the six options outlined in the draft environmental statement.
J.J. Goicoechea, a Eureka County commissioner and local government representative on the council, urged those in attendance to submit meaningful comments that address certain actions.
"This is it," he said. "You have to have constructive comment. We have got to get good comments because this is for all the marbles."
Goicoechea's remarks came after some ranchers railed against the federal government and the suggestion that the bird deserves protection.
The Fish and Wildlife Service in October proposed to list a distinct population of grouse found in an area in western Nevada and eastern California as threatened. Those birds, found across about 2 million acres, are separate from overall sage grouse populations across the West and a portion of Canada.
Ranchers also complained that the federal government's preferred course doesn't address the effect of predators on sage grouse populations. Control of ravens, coyotes, badgers and other predators was a priority decades ago and the birds were more plentiful, they said.
"This bird is not endangered," said Fred Fulstone, a longtime rancher in Smith. "There are thousands of them all over the Western United States.
"What good is this bird?" he continued. "It doesn't provide any of the basic needs of mankind."