The Interior Department plans to decide whether to list the greater sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act by Sept. 30, but whatever the decision the agency won’t write a rule implementing it, Secretary Sally Jewell said Tuesday.
Congress approved language as part of a broad fiscal 2015 spending package (PL 113-235) that prevents the department from spending money to write a proposed rule if the Fish and Wildlife Service decides to designate the bird as threatened or endangered. Jewell has said the agency will still be able to make a listing decision, but she clarified Interior’s thinking on the rule while testifying before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on her proposed fiscal 2016 budget.
The Fish and Wildlife Service is required under a legal settlement with environmental groups to decide whether an Endangered Species Act (PL 93-205) listing is warranted, Jewell said. But the agency would not have the funding available to write a proposed rule to flesh out its next steps.
“If we make a determination that it’s threatened or endangered – and believe me, I hope we won’t get there because of the great work that’s going on with the states involved in the sage grouse – but if a listing were warranted, the Fish and Wildlife Service could say a listing is warranted, but they could not write a rule that indicates what that means,” Jewell said.
A broad swath of Western states is home to the sagebrush habitat where the grouse lives, though each state has its own challenges to consider, Jewell said, meaning there isn’t one approach to ensuring the bird continues to thrive.
“Our goal is to provide a clear path forward so that grazing and ranching and oil and gas activities can continue, but continue in a really smart way,” Jewell said.