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July 30, 2014

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Obama administration launches project to keep sage grouse off threatened list

Image

Nevada Division of Wildlife, Kim Toulouse, / AP

A male sage grouse, left, struts with two other males during mating season in April 2000 in northern Nevada.

Updated Friday, June 20, 2014 | 12:59 p.m.

The Obama administration is launching an effort to accelerate protection of sage grouse along the Nevada-California line with $31 million in spending commitments through 2024 to help ranchers and others improve grouse habitat.

A top official in the Agriculture Department told The Associated Press that Friday's announcement may represent the best, last chance to keep the Nevada and California population of the bird off the list of threatened species.

Jason Weller, chief of the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service, says that while the multiagency effort targets California and Nevada, it ultimately will benefit the overall habitat of the greater sage grouse in 11 western states.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack calls it a "groundbreaking commitment." His agencies are pledging $25.5 million and the Bureau of Land Management $6.5 million over the next five to 10 years.

"With proactive conservation investments, we're helping farmers and ranchers who are improving habitat through voluntary efforts to stabilize this population of sage-grouse," Vilsack said in a statement. "Through action such as this, along with the support of our partners, we can help secure this species' future and maintain our vibrant western economies."

Today's announcement comes after federal agencies sought public comments on a proposal by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to list the Nevada-California sage-grouse as threatened.

A final decision on the proposal is expected by April 28, 2015.

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he was glad glad to see a boost in funding for the Nevada-California sage grouse. The greater sage grouse, which affects a much larger part of Nevada, "is going to need a similar working relationship between the stakeholders, but will need larger solutions and the bipartisan bill that Senator (Dean) Heller and I are working on is part of that," Reid said. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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