By Timothy Cama - 09/15/15 10:51 AM EDT
Interior Secretary Sally JewellSally JewellInterior chief reprimands employees on ethics, sexual harassment A way out of Alaska's fiscal hole Obama to take victory lap on conservation MORE said she hopes her staff will decide that the greater sage grouse does not need protection as an endangered species.
Jewell said Tuesday that she is keeping an “arm’s-length” distance from the listing decision by the Fish and Wildlife Service, which is under her purview and being held to a Sept. 30 court deadline to decide whether to protect the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act.
The chicken-sized bird’s potential addition to the endangered species list has quickly become one of the most controversial decisions within Jewell’s diverse department and a lightning rod for debates over the purpose of the Endangered Species Act.
Citing potential restrictions on oil and natural gas drilling, as well as other commercial activity in 11 western states, congressional Republicans succeeded last year in passing a government spending measure that prohibits, for the time being, the Fish and Wildlife Service from actually adding the bird to the endangered list.
But Jewell’s department maintains that it can still go through the process of determining whether a listing is warranted.
Jewell told reporters she hopes that the efforts by private landowners, the oil and gas industry, states and others to protect the sage grouse and rebuild its habitat will be sufficient to conserve it and that further federal action through a list would not be necessary.
“The efforts on the part of states, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, private landowners, nonprofit organizations, developers, energy companies, grazers, ranchers [and] cattlemen has been incredible,” she said.”
She cited the case of the New England cottontail, which officials decided last week did not warrant protection because of existing efforts to restore its habitat.
“I will remain optimistic and hopeful that we can have a similar outcome, but we are all waiting for the Fish and Wildlife Service to make a determination,” Jewell added, saying that efforts that do not involved federal protections are “the way the Endangered Species Act should work.”