Group seeks endangered listing for sage grouse

By Sandra Chereb The Associated Press
Wednesday January 09, 2002

RENO, Nev. — A wildlife group wants a small population of sage grouse found along the Nevada-California line in the eastern Sierra to be listed as an endangered species. 

The Institute for Wildlife Protection in Eugene, Ore., filed a petition for an emergency listing with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Jan. 2. 

The petition argues that the birds found in Mono County and Lyon County, Nev., should be considered a “distinct population segment” separate from the Western grouse found in declining numbers around the West. 

The population requires federal protection, the petition said, because of the bird’s threatened extinction from such factors as dwindling habitat, its isolation and a planned airport expansion in the winter resort town of Mammoth, Calif. 

Biologists have determined the birds are “genetically unique,” but have not concluded they are otherwise distinct. They are thought to be a subgroup of a larger population also found in surrounding counties, said San Stiver, a leading sage grouse biologist with the Nevada Division of Wildlife. 

Once abundant throughout the sagebrush terrain of western states, sage grouse numbers have declined by as much as 80 percent over the past 20 years. Many states, Nevada included, have been working on conservation plans to protect the bird and stave off an Endangered Species Act listing, which would force strict land use and other regulatory restrictions. 

“We realize there’s some habitat problems out there. ... and we’re already on the ground planning and getting people involved,” said state wildlife spokesman Chris Healy. 

Randi Thompson, spokeswoman for the Fish and Wildlife Service in Reno, said the federal agency will work with wildlife biologists in Nevada and California to review the status of the Mono Basin grouse.