NV county hopes plan prevents sage grouse listing
But his agency views habitat loss and fragmentation as the most serious threat to sage grouse in the West, he said, and considers the spread of invasive species such as cheat grass as its biggest threat in the Great Basin, which covers much of Nevada and Utah and portions of Oregon.
The government blames the increase in wildfires on decades of fire suppression that caused a buildup of fuels, as well as the spread of highly flammable cheat grass.
Cheat grass is replacing sagebrush and other native vegetation that sage grouse rely on. The birds need cover in the form of grasses and forbs under sagebrush for nesting, Koch said, and the county's plan would be less helpful to sage grouse if it results in removal of that cover.
"We welcome their efforts and look forward to their results," he said. "However, our approach is to try to conserve and protect native sagebrush ecosystems. We're not sure about their approach. We're just not sure how effective it will be. But there's a lot we don't know."
Koch also said more needs to be done to reduce ravens, saying Nevada alone has seen a 600 percent increase in the scavengers in the last three decades. The agency supports steps to remove "human subsidies" behind the increase, such as limiting ravens' access to garbage dumps, he added.
Ken Bowler, owner of the Devil's Gate Ranch about 25 miles northeast of Elko, said he's heading into the pilot project with an open mind.
"Let's not jump to the conclusion that it's mining and grazing causing problems for sage grouse," he said. "We want to know what the real deal is."
Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval's new Sagebrush Ecosystem Council is working with local governments, stakeholders and others across the state to prevent a listing of the bird. "We look forward to continuing to work together on this vital issue," said his spokeswoman Mary-Sarah Kinner.
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