By Clifford Krauss
The Obama administration moved on Thursday to limit petroleum drilling on some of the wide-ranging habitat of the greater sage grouse, a native of the American West that many environmentalists say is threatened if emergency action against industrialization is not taken soon.
The announcement may stave off a possible Interior Department declaration by October that the finicky chickenlike bird known for its flamboyant courtship strut is endangered. Such a legal determination could stifle the development of vast energy resources in Wyoming and nearby states, including natural gas fields, coal mines and wind farms.
“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,” said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell 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.
Several environmental groups applauded the action.
“The greater sage grouse conservation plan is a huge step in the right direction,” said Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, “that holds out the promise to save not only this beautiful bird but also hundreds of other species.”
The battle between environmentalists and those who want to develop industry across 11 states has echoed the conflict over logging in Oregon in the 1990s to save the spotted owl.
Many environmentalists have hoped that an endangered species designation would not only restrict housing, mining, ranching and hunting around breeding grounds, but also put the brakes on the fossil fuel industry in several critical states. But many companies have joined in an effort with state and local officials to figure out ways to make room for industrial activities and for habitat the bird needs to reproduce.
Once numbering in the millions, the sage grouse population is down to 150,000 to 400,000, environmentalists estimate. Video.