Green groups look for compromise on sage grouse

Environmental groups are looking for a compromise in a fight with energy developers over protections for the greater sage grouse.

The green groups say the bird, which is commonly found in 11 Western states, can be protected without eliminating energy development.

Industry groups have complained that new protections the Fish and Wildlife Service is considering for the sage grouse would slow down business in areas where they are looking to drill for oil and gas.

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But a handful of energy and conservation groups say they are looking to strike a compromise with the developers that would keep the sage grouse off the Endangered Species List, ensuring energy exploration can continue in most of those areas.

“We can find room for both,” said Nada Culver, policy director at the Wilderness Society. “I don’t think it has to slow down energy development there."

In a letter to Western Energy Alliance, which represents energy companies, the conservation groups suggested Tuesday they work together on a solution that would protect the sage grouse without hampering business.

Culver suggests a multi-use approach that would encourage conservation groups to share the land with energy producers. While she admitted there may be some areas completely off limits to developers, because the sage grouse is too vulnerable there, the compromise would allow for limited oil and gas development in most parts.

"That doesn't mean nothing else happens on those lands, but it means you have to take the conservation aspect serious enough to make a difference, Culver said.

This comes after the Western Energy Alliance recently launched a campaign accusing environmentalists of relying on “bad science” to stop energy development.

The letter acknowledged the glaring disagreements between environmentalists and energy developers but urged the groups to find common ground.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has the final say on whether it will add the sage grouse to the Endangered Species List, but Culver said a compromise between conservation and industry groups could go a long way toward influencing the agency’s decision, which is expected by September 2015.