Newspaper article International New York Times

U.S. Seeks Drilling Limit to Protect a Strutting Bird ; Petroleum Group Objects to Federal Action to Aid the Greater Sage Grouse

Newspaper article International New York Times

U.S. Seeks Drilling Limit to Protect a Strutting Bird ; Petroleum Group Objects to Federal Action to Aid the Greater Sage Grouse

Article excerpt

The move includes a collection of 14 land-management plans across 10 states and was developed in negotiations with business interests.

The Obama administration, aiming to keep a finicky, chickenlike bird called the greater sage grouse off the endangered species list, has moved to limit petroleum drilling and other activities on some of its wide-ranging habitat in the American West.

The move -- which includes a collection of 14 land-management plans across 10 states -- stems from a determination in 2010 by the federal Fish and Wildlife Service that the bird, a potent symbol of the West known for its flamboyant courtship strut, was in need of protection. Millions of the birds once ranged across the wild prairies, but their numbers have plunged far and fast, down to 150,000, environmentalists estimate.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has until the end of September to determine what, if any, additional protections the grouse needs.

But while many environmentalists say the bird is threatened if emergency action against industrialization is not taken soon, business interests say that adding it to the endangered species list could stifle the development of vast energy resources in Wyoming and nearby states, including natural gas fields, coal mines and wind farms.

The plans released Thursday represent an effort to balance those interests, preserving the grouse but still allowing the recreational, agricultural and industrial uses that underpin the economies of the western region.

"As land managers of two-thirds of greater sage grouse habitat, we have a responsibility to take action that ensures a bright future for wildlife and a thriving western economy," Sally Jewell, the secretary of the interior, said in announcing the plans in Cheyenne, Wyo.

The new plan would establish buffer zones around areas where male grouses gather for breeding, many of which abut or are inside oil and gas fields. It will affect about two million acres, mostly federal land, but would allow the exercise of existing rights for energy development, minerals, rights of way and other permitted projects.

The vast majority of federal lands within the most important sage grouse habitats, Interior Department officials said, have little to no potential for oil, gas, solar or wind energy development. …

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