Judge upholds protections for western bird species

Judge upholds protections for western bird species
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A federal judge has upheld Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections for the Gunnison sage grouse, rejecting challenges from the states that host it.

Judge Christine Arguello of the District Court of Colorado said that the Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2014 decision, during the Obama administration, to list the bird as “threatened” and protect 1.4 million acres of its habitat followed the relevant laws.

“Substantial evidence supports that the near-extinction of the six satellite populations, coupled with the declining Gunnison Basin population, causes the entire species to face extinction ‘in the foreseeable future,’” she wrote, quoting the ESA.

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“The service thoughtfully progressed through the required analysis under the ESA, supporting its findings with scientific analyses and data,” she said. “Affording it the highest deference, the court finds that the service’s ultimate conclusion that the Gunnison sage-grouse is ‘threatened’ under the ESA was supported by reason and not arbitrarily drawn, nor was it contrary to law.”

Arguello made a similar finding for the critical habitat designations.

The late Thursday ruling was the second time in a week that a federal court found in favor of species protections. A Montana judge earlier this week found that the Trump administration’s FWS was wrong last year to remove ESA protections for the Yellowstone area grizzly bear.

The Gunnison sage grouse is similar to, though an entirely separate species from, the greater sage grouse. The larger bird as a much larger, 11-state range, and has avoided ESA listing, though the Obama administration implemented other protections for it that have angered the oil industry and other businesses.

Conservation groups cheered Arguello’s ruling.

“We’re relieved that desperately needed protection for these unique birds will stand,” Ryan Shannon, a staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “Now it’s time for federal wildlife officials to focus on recovering this critically imperiled species. We need quick action or the West will lose these birds forever.”