On September 22, 2015, the U.S. Department of Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service (“FWS”) announced that the sage-grouse would not be listed under the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) – a particularly significant decision for wind development in the Western United States.
U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced that, based on the efforts of various interest groups, including ranchers, conservationists, and agricultural landowners, the sage-grouse population is not at risk of extinction in the foreseeable future and, as a result, did not need protection under the ESA.
The sage-grouse’s habitat extends from parts of North Dakota to California, and includes several wind-rich states, such as Wyoming and Montana. The decision not to list the sage-grouse is significant for wind project developers because sage-grouse are known to avoid tall structures like wind towers and transmission lines, causing many federal agencies to carefully consider the impacts of wind project development on potential sage-grouse habitat and population. Additionally, because nearly half of the sage-grouse’s habitat is on federal lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service, the decision not to list the sage-grouse means that lands available for wind project development will remain so without requiring further environmental studies to ensure no harm is being done to an ESA-listed species or its habitat.
The U.S. Department of Interior’s announcement can be found here. The Department of Interior’s announcement also includes additional information on the initiatives that resulted in the habitat and population recovery, which were the basis for FWS’ decision not to list the sage-grouse.