US spending bill would block bird protection

11 December 2014, News Wires – A proposed $1.1 trillion spending bill to fund the US government in 2015 would prevent the White House from protecting a variety of bird species in the western US, according to reports, in a move seen as a victory for oil and gas proponents.

The spending bill, which represents a political compromise aimed at preventing a government shutdown at midnight on Thursday, would prohibit the US Fish & Wildlife Service from listing the greater sage-grouse as endangered or threatened and stop the service from working to implement protections for the Gunnison sage-grouse, which the agency listed as threatened last month.

BirdsRepublicans successfully negotiated a number of policy provisions into the measure. It is expected to be put to a House of Representatives vote on Thursday, while Senate passage would follow by a day or two, Reuters reported.

Oil industry groups and some western state governors have fought a potential listing for the sage-grouse, arguing that enacting federal protections for the birds’ expansive territory would severely curtail oil and gas drilling in these areas.

The greater sage-grouse inhabits 186 million acres in nearly a dozen states, according to the Western Energy Alliance, which opposes a federal listing for the bird. The group says industry and local governments are already working to protect the species.

But environmentalists say greater sage-grouse populations have fallen sharply in the past 50 years. Green groups have sued the service to force it to take action on the bird.

A court-approved settlement had set a September 2015 deadline for the agency to issue a decision on listing the sage-grouse. In anticipation of that, western state officials and developers had been working on voluntary conservation plans in an effort to stave off federal intervention.



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