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Sage grouse habitat focus of new study

RENO — A new study by an environmental group that wants the sage grouse listed as a threatened or endangered species shows less than 5 percent of what’s left of its dwindling habitat across the West is federally protected.

The new assessment found four-fifths of the game bird’s habitat is adversely affected by either livestock grazing, natural gas and oil development, or invasive weeds.

“Existing threats to sage grouse and their habitat are enormous,” states the report by WildEarth Guardians. The report is to be released today.

Critics of the report, including the head of the Nevada Department of Wildlife and others who oppose federal listing of the bird, said the study places too much emphasis on grazing and drilling while ignoring other threats to the species such as drought and West Nile virus.

The sage grouse is found in 11 Western states. Its population has been declining for decades.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rejected a petition in 2005 to add the bird to the list of threatened or endangered species. But a judge in Idaho overturned the decision in December amid allegations Interior Department managers interfered with the science used in assessing the bird.

The USFWS is scheduled to issue a new listing decision in December.

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