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BLM looks to Audubon to map sage grouse habitat

Mead Gruver
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

CHEYENNE, Wyo. – The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is looking to Audubon Wyoming to map sage grouse habitat across the 11 states where the bird is found.

Sage grouse have been losing their sagebrush habitat for decades and now face listing under the Endangered Species Act. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service expects to announce a listing decision next week.

New regulations resulting from an endangered or threatened species listing could substantially affect a variety of land uses across the West, including gas development and wind energy.

The BLM plans to award a contract for mapping sage grouse habitat to the Audubon Wyoming by early March. The contract amount has not been negotiated yet but won’t exceed $100,000, said Chad Hepp, a BLM contracting officer in Denver.

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Audubon already works with various state agencies that have been studying where sage grouse habitat exists, Hepp said Tuesday. He said the group should be able to draw from that data without having to do new field research.

“We’re trying to pull everything into one central database and map it,” Hepp said.

The state wildlife agencies studying the greater sage grouse include the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, which with help from Audubon Wyoming created maps before the state announced core habitat zones for the species in 2008.

“This is an extension of the same work we’ve already done,” said Brian Rutledge, executive director of Audubon Wyoming. “Which just makes the most sense to do. Why reinvent the wheel?”

Wyoming is believed to host about half of North America’s sage grouse. Expanses of the birds’ sagebrush habitat – the birds feed on the plant, particularly during the winter – cover vast portions of the state.

State and local groups in Wyoming have been working for years to encourage study of the birds so their habitat can be protected and an endangered species listing averted.

“It’s been a constant song from folks that we need to know where these things live, breed and eat,” said Ryan Lance, a deputy chief of staff in Gov. Dave Freudenthal’s office.

Existing maps show the chicken-sized bird also inhabiting large portions of Nevada, Montana, Oregon and Idaho, and smaller areas in Colorado, Utah, California, Washington and the Dakotas.


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