Daily life and economic development in the West “will not ‘shut down’” if the federal government determines greater sage grouse warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act, officials have told Wyoming legislators.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made those comments in a letter to a Wyoming legislative committee late last month. The Joint Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee sought information about greater sage grouse for its Aug. 28 meeting in Riverton.

“If greater sage-grouse are listed, daily life, including economic development, will not ‘shut down’ in the affected range,” Fish and Wildlife wrote the committee in an unsigned letter from its Cheyenne office. The letter was included in meeting materials.

“[O]n federal lands, we will consult with land managers on potential development activities to ensure such activities don’t undermine conservation efforts, including those codified in BLM and Forest Service land use plans,” the letter said. “Similarly, for state and private lands, there are a wide variety of flexible and effective tools available under the ESA for implementing conservation while allowing landowners to exercise their rights and develop resources.”

That’s not to say nothing will change, Fish and Wildlife said. “To be clear, there will be restrictions and limitations on land use and disturbance, especially on the federal estate, which is another reason why we are working closely with all our partners to try and conserve the species without an ESA listing.”

Wyoming’s view slightly different

Gov. Matt Mead’s natural resource policy director Jerimiah Rieman also was on the legislative committee’s Aug. 28 agenda, and produced a PowerPoint presentation about the greater sage grouse, the ESA and Wyoming’s energy industry.

Wyoming is the largest energy exporting state in the U.S., one slide says. If it were an independent country, Wyoming would be the third largest energy exporter in the world, behind Russia and Saudi Arabia.Much of that production comes from federal lands — the federal estate mentioned in the Fish and Wildlife Service letter. Sixty-seven percent of Wyoming’s 39,436 producing oil and gas wells are in sage grouse range, Rieman’s presentation said.

That’s not to say those wells would be shut in if greater sage grouse were listed as threatened or endangered. Much of the wells’ impacts already have occurred and conservation plans seek mainly to reduce new surface disturbance.

Eighty-seven percent of Wyoming’s 426 million tons of coal produced in 2008 also come from grouse habitat, Rieman’s presentation says.

Fish and Wildlife’s decision would not result in immediate action, the agency told the committee. “…[W]e will not be able to act on drafting a rule until a later date,” the letter said. One reason is a prohibition in the current federal budget that prevents the agency from taking any action after it makes its finding about the bird’s status.”

Read the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s letter to the Wyoming Legislature:

Angus M. Thuermer Jr.

Angus M. Thuermer Jr. is the natural resources reporter for WyoFile. He is a veteran Wyoming reporter and editor with more than 35 years experience in Wyoming. Contact him at angus@wyofile.com or (307)...

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