NV Mining Association Gives $40,000 to Help Count Sage Grouse

RENO, Nev. (AP) - One of the industries that stands to suffer from any restrictions related to the possible federal listing of the sage grouse is stepping up to the plate to help pay for population counts of the bird in Nevada.

The Nevada Mining Association donated $40,000 to the Nevada Department of Wildlife to assist in the new assessment of the bird's status, the state agency announced Friday.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided against declaring the bird threatened under the Endangered Species Act in January 2005, but a federal judge in Idaho ruled in December that USFWS failed to use the best science in its previous decision.

The agency has until December to issue a new decision. It has given wildlife agencies in 11 states until June 24 to update information on local populations, the threat they face and the steps being taken to conserve them.

"The Nevada Mining Association recognized the importance of good science and stepped up to the plate," said Dave Pulliam, chief of NDOW's habitat division.

"We need to prepare our data in the most appropriate and scientifically credible way, and this donation will allow that to take place," he said.

Pulliam said the contribution will help Nevada coordinate efforts with other states. It also will help defer travel expenses for NDOW Director Kenneth Mayer to meet with Sen. Harry Reid and others in Washington to gain support for increased priority for management of sage grouse to minimize the chances for a federal listing of this bird.

"The important thing about this donation is it allows us to carry out the sage grouse project without endangering other, ongoing, habitat maintenance and restoration efforts," Pulliam said. "We will continue to move ahead with cheat grass mitigation and sagebrush habitat restoration, two projects on which we receive support from the mining industry."

A series of particularly bad fire seasons since 2005 have many state biologists concerned about the bird's status, especially in Nevada, Utah and Idaho. Of the 22 million acres of sage grouse habitat that existed in Nevada in 1999, nearly 3 million acres has burned.

The chicken-sized bird is found on sage brush plains and high desert from Colorado to California and north to the Canadian border. Its population has been declining for decades and it now occupies about half of its original, year-round habitat. The Fish and Wildlife Service estimated in 2005 there were 100,000 to 500,000 greater sage grouse.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)