CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Protecting western lifestyles and economic opportunities by keeping sage grouse off the Endangered Species List has been a high-stakes juggling act for Nevada and other states around the West for more than a decade.
But as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service comes closer to having to make a decision on whether the chicken-size bird deserves federal protection, which some fear could put the brakes on mining, ranching, energy and other economic development programs, Gov. Brian Sandoval is stepping up Nevada's efforts to stave off a listing and show the federal government that creating jobs and opportunities can coexist with sage grouse protection.
Sandoval, a first-term Republican, last week signed an executive order establishing a greater sage grouse advisory committee. He charged the nine-person panel — whose members have not yet been named — to recommend an action plan by July 31.
In 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined sage grouse deserved federal protection, but other species were higher priorities. A recent legal settlement now gives the agency until 2015 to decide the bird's status — threatened or endangered or not in need of federal protection.
The late Gov. Kenny Guinn formed Nevada's first sage grouse committee in 2000. Sandoval spokeswoman Mary-Sarah Kinner said the new advisory panel will expand on that committee's work.
The hope is that by taking state initiative to protect the bird, whose numbers have fallen dramatically in the last century, federal intervention can be avoided.
"It is clear that the status quo will not prevent the sage grouse from being listed under the Endangered Species Act," Kinner said in an email to The Associated Press, adding Sandoval believes Nevada can't wait until 2015 to take action.