Greater Sage Grouse Decision Poses No Threat to Military Operations in West

The greater sage-grouse, whose habitat stretches across 11 western states, does not require protection under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has determined.

Interior Department Secretary Sally Jewell announced this finding Sept. 22 in a video.

The agency’s decision means that military installations in western states will not confront restrictions on the size of training lands, scope of training activities and future construction that the bird’s listing would have caused, reported The New York Times.

The 327,000-acre Yakima Training Center in central Washington, for example, supports a greater sage grouse population inside a 77,000-acre preserve. Placing the grouse on the endangered species list would have forced 11 gunnery ranges to shut down from Feb. 1 to June 15 each year and imposed other restrictions, an Army report said.

The impact on military readiness at the center would have been even more far-ranging, several military officers contended. Listing the bird “could affect up to 19 training areas and 27 gunnery ranges, making the Yakima all but useless for six months of every year. The Army could be required to transfer up to 5,000 soldiers across the country to receive similar training,” retired military officers Joseph Schmitz, Marc Rogers and William Boykin wrote in a Roll Call op-ed.

The species numbered in the millions in the 19th century but loss of habitat, a warming climate, invasive species and other factors caused its numbers to plummet to a dangerous degree by 2013. However, efforts by private landowners, states and the federal government — including the military — have helped the population to rebound. Since then, the number of male grouse spotted in mating areas has increased by 63 percent, the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies reported. The current population is estimated to have reached as high as 500,000.

The U.S. House Armed Services Committee is considering a proposal to stall a listing decision for the bird by a decade and transferring to western states millions of acres of federal land, reported Fox News.

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Dan Cohen
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