Sage Grouse & WWP May Be Headed Back to Court !?

~ Jon Marvel


 Sage grouse take flight,  Bruneau uplands, Idaho  photo © Ken Cole, WWP
Sage grouse take flight, Bruneau uplands, Idaho photo © Ken Cole, WWP

Today, in response to successful litigation brought by Western Watersheds Project and our attorneys at Advocates For The West, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced Greater Sage Grouse would not be protected by listing the species under the protections of the Endangered Species Act.

The Secretary did acknowledge that listing was warranted but was precluded by other species with a higher priority for protection.

The decision not to list Greater Sage Grouse is in response to a great deal of political pressure from western states and extractive industries including oil. gas and renewable energy development interests as well as traditional uses like livestock grazing and energy transmission facilities.

Video of Sage Grouse

Western Watersheds Project will review the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service support documents for this decision and determine if the agency has complied with the law.

If it is clear that the law has been violated, WWP will then decide if additional litigation would be helpful to protect this disappearing species in the American west.

Current Grouse Distribution
Current Grouse Distribution

Ultimately the protection of Greater Sage Grouse will benefit a diversity of wildlife and habitat on public lands that span the Sagebrush Sea, the most imperiled landscape in North America.

Read the WWP News Release

Jon Marvel
Executive Director






  1. JimT Avatar

    I assume those document have a list of the higher priority species and the science to document the candidate species decision? How ironic would it be if the wolf was one of those species?

  2. kt Avatar

    I’ve also heard that NRCS or some Ag Agency is going to announce a big bunch of funding for more sagebrush habitat destruction – Orwellianly termed “restoration”. Throwing big dollars at “projects” to kill sagebrush or pj – rather than removing the major ecological irritant – cattle.

    If you listened to the FWS “Webinar” this afternoon, boy did they try to bury grazing. It’s Verboten to talk about in Salazar’s FWS/BLM, or if you’re a researcher and seek any government funds, too (like USGS).

    Ken better polish off his Nevada Ely BLM SNWA zone sagebrush smashing photos, though, in anticipation of more destruction for livestock twisted to be called “restoration”.

  3. JimT Avatar

    They are cutting their own throats, then, in terms of habitat designation requirements; destroying critical habitat can hardly be called compliance with the terms of the Act and its implementing regulations.

  4. Eric T Avatar
    Eric T

    I think I should just legally change my name to “501 (c) 3” and all my monetary troubles will go by the wayside.

  5. kt Avatar

    Audubon will be paid handsomely for mapping info the way Salazar and BLM want. This will make it much more difficult for the public to access info on sage-grouse numbers through FOIAs or records requests. THis “outsourced” mapping is nothing but a great big contractor boondoogle.


    Added: Feb 03, 2010 11:06 am
    The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), in accordance with FAR 6.302-1 intends on negotiating and awarding a sole source contract with The National Audubon Society for the mapping and modeling of core Greater sage grouse habitat. The BLM will utilize the geospatial core habitat data for Greater sage-grouse to better manage for the conservation of this at-risk species. The standard NAICS classification is 541370. The size standard is $4.5 million.

    The Audubon Society has established a working relationship with the eleven western state wildlife management agencies to acquire the use of geospatial data depicting Greater sage-grouse lek locations and lek breeding …

  6. JEFF E Avatar
    JEFF E

    So i guess I am confused. If a species is endangered it is endangered. How can it be less of a priority than another species that is endangered?

  7. mikarooni Avatar

    Jeff E, you have to be able speak out of both sides of your mouth, a kind of, well, double-speak. It’s sort of like how Iraq had WMD, but not, but maybe coulda kinda woulda, so making the error was the right thing to do, or woulda been if it hadn’t been the wrong thing to do, so it was ultimately the right thing to do …kinda sorta.

  8. Talks with Bears Avatar
    Talks with Bears

    Jeff E – because it gives lawyers a “reason” to file another lawsuit. Notice how the fella above deemed they had scored a big success and now they are looking at following up on the “big success” with another lawsuit – priceless.

    1. JEFF E Avatar
      JEFF E

      If the Govt is not adhering to the law then what do you suggest?

    2. Tilly Avatar

      There is nothing inconsistent about getting a victory, but still having to consider further litigation. The most common remedy in environmental law is forcing the government to re-do their analysis. Courts usually can’t tell the agency what, exactly, to do in the new decision. So very often, bad decisions still follow a successful lawsuit.

    3. Talks with Bears Avatar
      Talks with Bears

      Jeff E – how about we elect some folks to represent us that want LESS government. In addition, people tire of this constant drumbeat of lawsuit talk. I live in the epicenter of “enviromental legal utopia” – I wonder when was the last time these folks got out and actually did something for wildlife habitat or actually saw the animal they are supposedly working for. Or how about this for a novel idea, how about working with other land user groups to build a consenus or actually work on projects???? Just so you guys will know, even though these enviro folks roost here in Bozeman, I only see them with there hands out asking for money to pay a lawyer – not so much helping for example our less fortunate children and or families.

    4. Talks with Bears Avatar
      Talks with Bears

      Tilly – you are correct, there is nothing inconsistent with enviromental groups using their lawyers to attempt to make someone else adhere to their views.

    5. Tilly Avatar

      Most of the leaders of litigious groups I know of tried to play “nice” for years, and saw what it got them: little to nothing. They turned to litigation as a LAST RESORT.

    6. JEFF E Avatar
      JEFF E

      see JB’s post of 12:01 pm. this started with sage grouse in 2002. Was that not during some administration that touted the less government philosophy?
      Don’t get me wrong, I have my own view of government and the short story is that the primary purpose of government is to justify it’s own existence.
      Having said that my original question still stands.
      If people are tired of litigation, and the government won’t follow the law, what are we left with?

    7. Talks with Bears Avatar
      Talks with Bears

      Jeff E – I hear you – there has not been an administration in a long time that either wanted or implemented less government. There is more to “getting things done” than lawsuits – as I mentioned above and others mentioned above regarding politics or consensus building – seems to me that the FIRST thing that is done is file a lawsuit

  9. Devin Avatar

    Does there come a point when continuing law suits become counter-productive to environmental movements? The policy process is a mingling of science and politics. Many of these policies are already more scientific than they would have been in previous years as the policy makers try to avoid arbitrary and capricious lawsuits. At some point shouldn’t we just let the policy process work without having to interject ourselves at every point?

    Lawsuits and lawyers aren’t especially favorable in the eyes of many Americans and one only has to wonder if these lawsuits are turning off likely supporters of the movement?

    1. Ken Cole Avatar

      I’ll answer that from my own perspective Devin. In a word, NO.

      Time and time again it has been shown that the only way to hold agencies to the law regarding environmental issues is to litigate. The public comments process does not work and collaboration nearly always serves as a process to avoid using the best available science and following the law.

      The standard for whether an environmentalist acts isn’t whether it is popular or not, it is whether the law is being upheld. For some groups that is lost due to “political calculations” and how much “access” one has to power. That is a flawed strategy because it leads to nowhere.

  10. kt Avatar

    Here is the 100 plus Page grouse-dooming document. I haven’t read it yet, but it will be interesting how they dance around livestock as a CAUSE of fire, weeds, etc. – at rancher Salazar’s bidding no doubt.

    Also: I bet the words Ruby Pipeline are not in it. Even though the Sierra Club’s Toiyabe Chapter write a letter to FWS specifically bringing this devastating project to their attention so that the coudln’t somehow overlook it.

    And USFWS and BLM have spent thousands of hours in the past year or so trying to figure out how in the world they can cave into El Paso’s Ruby Pipeline that rips through leks in a Wyoming Core Area, Utah, and a huge swath of Nevada – and still be claiming to care about the sage-grouse, pygmy rabbit, or any other species. We understand the Decision is at the highest levels of interior.

    What will Colorado rancher Ken Salazar do? Ruby just happens to be based in Colorado. The Colorado Dems (apparently utterly beholden to gas interests) have gushed about Ruby because it is a key part of the destruction of the Piceance Basin in Colorado during a time of a national gas glut. Needed to get the gas to the West Coast – where many people in CA are opposed to the gas. OR perhaps to get the gas to those controversial Oregon LNG terminals – for export in a few years …

  11. kt Avatar

    Here is what to click on at the FWS site:

    The Federal Register Notice is part of the List – but there is no direct link to it. So scroll down to:

    Federal Register Notice March 5, 2010: 12-Month Findings for Petitions to List the Greater Sage- Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) as Threatened or Endangered

  12. JB Avatar

    I think Devin’s comments speak to the core of this problem. People who do not follow these issues closely don’t realize the extent to which the law is being circumvented and subverted.

    Note: FWS received a petition to list the sage-grouse on 2 July 2002; they made their required “90-day finding” almost 2 years later (21 April 2004), at which time they announced that there was “substantial information indicating that the petitioned actions may be warranted.” A year later (July 2005) FWS announced a “not-warranted” 12-month finding. A year after that (July 2006) WWP filed suit. A year and a half later (December 2007) the District Court ruled that FWS’s finding was arbitrary and capricious. Then FWS initiated a series of delay tactics that allowed them to successfully put off a new 12-month (12 MONTH!!!!) finding until February 2010.

    So here we are almost 8 YEARS after the initial petition was filed, FWS knows the species should be listed, and we get yet another delay tactic. Even if WWP files suit tomorrow, how many years do you think it will be before we get a final rule actually listing the species? And then critical habitat will require another lawsuit. So how many years from Petition to actual action? Ten, fifteen, more?

    So am I disgusted by the process? You bet I am. But not at the lawyers. I’m disgusted by the fact that Interior continues to cave to political pressure and fight these suits instead of taking the actions that the goddamn LAW prescribes.

    1. Devin Avatar

      I don’t think you should assume that just because I don’t think these lawsuits should be constantly filed that I am also ignorant of the issues and the history behind the management practices. The DOI statement has just occurred. Let’s give them time to see if their plan of increased federal scrutiny and continued state/interest group management can achieve the desired results and then after a set point in time, evaluate it and then decide whether to go to court or not. Both sides could win some major allies if only they would compromise a tad…but I guess I’m too optimistic.

    2. Devin Avatar

      Even though many of us know already that the current policies will fail and that litigation will be necessary, why not give the policy some time to work to prove to the public that it will not? Why be in such a rush to alienate a public that could be a very big ally on some off these issues? It isn’t like there are only 10 grouse left in the nation.

      The wolf issue is a prime example. There are people who, only after Judge Malloy let the hunts continue, see that the states couldn’t manage the wolves correctly and are now supportive of federal control. Give the agencies/states/industry a chance to damn themselves in the eyes of the public.

    3. JB Avatar


      I did not mean to imply that you, personally, were ignorant of the issue. However, the sentiment you expressed is what I hear time and again from people who are concerned about endangered species, but don’t realize what, exactly has gone on behind the scenes. Eight years from petition to a decision not to list–despite the acknowledgment that listing is warranted. How much habitat has been lost already? How much more will be lost by the time FWS actually takes some meaningful action?

      You ask for more time for “…the agencies/states/industry…to damn themselves in the eyes of the public.” I would argue that they are plenty damned by their actions over the previous 8 years.

    4. Robert Hoskins Avatar
      Robert Hoskins

      I must agree with JB here. This didn’t just happen yesterday. We’ve known for over 50 years that sage grouse have been in slow but steady decline, primarily from 1) livestock grazing and 2) livestock range management, primarily destruction of sagebrush to create more grass for cows. Livestock damage to grouse habitat alone justifies listing.

      Then sage grouse habitat got hit by oil/gas field development, especially here in Wyoming. It’s a double whammy the bird can ill afford.

      Quite frankly, the bird should have been listed 15 years ago. Just how long is Interior going to drag it out? Until the BLM chains or drills the rest of its habitat?

  13. Petticoat Rebellion Avatar
    Petticoat Rebellion

    The majority of species that have been federally listed have resulted from litigation and many “arbitrary and capricious” decisions handed down from judges agaist the USFWS.

  14. kt Avatar

    Here we are – in the land of the Wyoming Core/Corpse areas. The number 1 priority appears to be destroying every place that doesn’t yet have an oil well or wind mill with more barbed wire, cow water, and sagebrush annihilation.

    All for the ranchers – who often ARE the Oil and Gas Companies with “cover” provided by Grazing Associations.

    I think they are really trying to wipe out the sage-grouse.


Ken Cole is a 5th generation Idahoan, an avid fly fisherman, wildlife enthusiast, and photographer. He is the interim Idaho Director for Western Watersheds Project.

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Ken Cole