Federal and state regulators Wednesday repeatedly assured Nevada officials and users of public lands-including Nevada mining companies and explorationists–that they want to avoid Endangered Species Act listings for the Greater Sage Grouse and the Modoc Sage Grouse .

Greater Sage Grouse occur in only 11 western states while the Modoc Sage Grouse is primarily confined to Nevada and California. They depend on large areas of continuous sagebrush habitat, which is now considered to be one of the most imperiled North American ecosystems. Federal agencies manage about two-thirds of U.S. sagebrush habitat. Roughly 31% of U.S. sagebrush habitat is privately owned.

In 2010 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that an ESA listing was warranted but precluded due to budget constraints and higher candidate species. They determined that habitat destructions, wildfires, invasive plants, grazing, climate change, energy and mining development and other activities all threaten the sage grouse.

In December 2011, the Bureau of Land Management issued two instruction memoranda addressing land use planning and management measures for the Greater Sage Grouse.

The December BLM memoranda may be the start of a new management framework for sage grouse in the West, which will take shape this year, and govern mining exploration, new mining projects, oil and gas and renewable energy development, grazing and other lands uses over the next few years until the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service makes a final decision on the proposed ESA status in 2015, and while the BLM continues its review of multiple resource management plans on public land in the West.

During a “scoping hearing” Wednesday at the Nevada Legislature building in Carson City, Nevada State BLM Director Amy Lueders warned users of public lands, “If you keep doing what you’ve been doing [on public lands] the bird will be listed.” Nevertheless, she assured audiences that the sage grouse will not repeat the spotted owl ESA controversy of the 1970s. For instance, federal agencies now have a number of tools available to improve sage grouse habitat without an ESA listing.

Nevada Department of Wildlife Director Ken Mayer emphasized, “What you heard here today is that none of us want this bird listed.”

The federal agencies at Wednesday’s scoping session cited Wyoming’s sage grouse management plan as an excellent example of state and federal agencies, users of public lands, oil and gas, mining, hunters, environmental NGOs and other stakeholders working together to improve sagebrush ecosystems. The Wyoming state plan protects 30% of sage grouse habitat, which has helped improve living and breeding conditions for 80% of Wyoming’s sage grouse population.

A U.S. Forest Service representative cautioned the audience that the agency only has until September 2012 to submit its documents to the Fish and Wildlife Service as to whether the Modoc Basin Sage Grouse should be listed as an ESA candidate species.

The Modoc Basin Sage Grouse may be in a more precarious position than the Greater Sage Grouse due to low numbers of birds, which are relatively isolated, and don’t adapt well to relocation from its six population management units along the California-Nevada borders.

iPad Version: Picture – Sage Grouse: Ho New / Reuters