A plan by the federal government to protect a wild bird about the size of a chicken in the western United States has brought strong attacks from critics, including ranchers, energy developers, and public officials.
"It's a death blow," Jeff Williams, a commissioner in Elko County, Nev., told The Elko Daily Free Press
. “In the rest of the state, it’s a horrible situation ... In Elko County, it’s the whole county. It’s everything we’ve got. It’s recreation, it’s mining, it’s oil, it’s agriculture."
He was referring to a draft of a plan presented this week by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that would protect the greater sage-grouse. The agency is under court order to make a final determination on whether to list the bird as a threatened or endangered species, Fox News reports
Sage-grouse are ground-dwelling birds up to 30 inches long and 2 feet tall. The greater sage-grouse is the largest grouse in North America.
During the spring mating season, the birds congregate at leks — historical breeding areas — where males compete for females by performing an elaborate dance, fanning their tails and puffing up their yellow chests.
The sage-grouse is found in 11 Western states — from Washington to South Dakota, and in two Canadian provinces. But scientists say they occupy only 56 percent of their historical range.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the number of sage-grouse has declined over the past century because of the loss of critical sagebrush habitat.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed listing the bird as a threatened species in Nevada and California, Fox reports.
The draft plan, which is in its public comment phase, would apply to all of Nevada and parts of California — including about 7.8 million acres in Elko, the Free Press reports.
Williams, the county commissioner, said the sage grouse could “shut the county down,” according to the report.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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