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For Immediate Release, March 29, 2010

Contact: Rob Mrowka, (702) 249-5821 or

Lawsuit Launched to Protect Sage Grouse, Vanishing Nevada Bird

LAS VEGAS— The Center for Biological Diversity, Desert Survivors, and Western Watersheds Project took the first step in a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for unlawfully delaying protection under the Endangered Species Act of both the bi-state population of greater sage grouse and greater sage grouse as a whole by filing a formal notice of intent to sue.

“The sage grouse’s desperate need for Endangered Species Act protection is no longer in dispute,” said Rob Mrowka, an ecologist at the Center. “More bureaucratic delay is sure to drive it extinct.”

In response to a petition and lawsuit from the Center and other environmental and faith-based groups, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a finding on March 13 that the bi-state population of the greater sage grouse found in the Mono Basin of California and Nevada, as well as the general population of greater sage grouse, warranted protection under the Endangered Species Act, but that such protection is precluded by higher priority listings of species.

Under the Endangered Species Act, the Fish and Wildlife Service can only delay protection of species if it is making “expeditious progress” in the listing of the other priority species. In recent years, however, the agency has been listing few species. During its first year, for example, the Obama administration only listed two species, which was the lowest first-year total since Reagan’s presidency. There are currently 251 species waiting for protection under the Endangered Species Act. In many cases, these species, on the brink of disappearing, have been awaiting protection for decades.

“Delay of protection for the sage grouse is an abuse of discretion that is a recipe for extinction for these magnificent birds,” said Mrowka. “We had hoped the Obama administration would move quickly to reduce the backlog of species waiting for protection, but instead it’s adding to the backlog.”

The bi-state or Mono Basin area population of sage grouse is the southwestern-most population of the greater sage grouse and is geographically isolated from other sage grouse populations. It is found in Storey, Lyon, Carson, Douglas, Mineral, and Esmeralda counties in Nevada and in Mono, Alpine, and Inyo counties in California.

“Because the Mono Basin population of sage grouse exists at the periphery of the sage grouse range and is genetically unique, it contains characteristics that may well be critically important to the survival of the species as a whole, particularly in light of climate change,” said Mrowka.

Primary threats to Mono Basin sage grouse include degradation of habitat by livestock grazing and invasive noxious weeds, fragmentation of habitat caused by development, roads and transmission lines, ORV use, and climate change. In response to these threats, populations have declined up to 70 percent.

Like other sage grouse, Mono Basin sage grouse are noted for their elaborate spring courtship rituals and displays. Males and females gather on traditional display areas called leks. Males strut, fan their tail feathers, and produce a haunting sound from air sacs located on the sides of their necks to attract willing females. An average of six to seven eggs are laid and incubated for around 30 days.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a nonprofit conservation organization with more than 255,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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