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For Immediate Release, February 21, 2008

Contacts:

Lisa Belenky, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 385-5694 (cell)
Katie Fite, Biodiversity Director, Western Watersheds Project, (208) 429-1679
Mark Salvo, Director, Sagebrush Sea Campaign, WildEarth Guardians, (503) 757-4221

Sage Grouse Protection to Be Revisited:
Bush Administration Agrees to Reassess Endangered Species
Act Protection for Mono Basin Population

SAN FRANCISCO– Conservation groups today announced they have reached a settlement in a lawsuit challenging the Bush administration’s decision not to consider the groups’ petition to list the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act. Under the settlement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to a voluntary remand of the earlier decision and must provide a new “90-day” finding by April 25, 2008.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Sagebrush Sea Campaign, Western Watersheds Project, and Desert Survivors filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in federal court in August 2007, challenging the agency’s December 2006 decision not to consider listing the Mono Basin area sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act.

Conservation organizations petitioned the government to recognize the Mono Basin area sage grouse as a distinct population segment and list the population as “endangered” or “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act in 2005. In December 2006 the Fish and Wildlife Service denied the petition, acknowledging that Mono Basin area sage grouse are genetically distinct from other greater sage grouse but holding that the petition did not demonstrate sufficiently that the species was at risk of extinction. Conservation groups contend that the Service ignored or dismissed significant evidence of impacts from increasing habitat loss and fragmentation from development, livestock grazing, off-road vehicle use, increased fire frequency and intensity, the spread of invasive, nonnative plants, and drought.

“This settlement requires the Bush administration to do what it should have done at the outset – fairly assess the listing petition,” explains Lisa Belenky, staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Service has agreed to go back and reassess the information in the petition regarding the status of this population of the sage grouse and the threats to its survival.”

Greater sage grouse range and distribution have been reduced by 56 percent, and populations have declined by as much as 93 percent from presumed historic levels. In the Mono Basin, sage grouse habitat is being destroyed due to development, increased off-road vehicle use, roads, and utility lines. Hunting for sage grouse continues in California and the species is also increasingly vulnerable due to climate change impacts and global warming.

"The Service ignored well-documented threats to the species, cast aside our listing petition, and avoided conducting a status review of the Mono Basin grouse," said Mark Salvo, director of the Sagebrush Sea Campaign. "This settlement advances genetically distinct Mono Basin area sage grouse one step closer to needed protections."

Listing under the U.S. Endangered Species Act would provide broad protection to the Mono Basin area sage grouse, including a requirement that U.S. federal agencies ensure that any action they carry out, authorize, or fund will not “jeopardize the continued existence” of this unique population of the species.

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