Decide whether to list the bird under the ESA

In a ruling that could affect oil and gas development in Colorado and Utah, the Fish and Wildlife Service has decided whether to give the gunnison sage-grouse protected status under the Endangered Species Act.

But only a small circle of people know the verdict now.

Instead, the ruling is under wraps while the Office of Management and Budget reviews the plan, roughly two weeks before a court-ordered deadline for the Interior Department agency to decide whether to list the bird under the ESA.

The rule making arrived at OMB on Friday, marking the start of that interagency review process.

Unlike its larger cousin, the greater sage-grouse, which roams 11 states, the gunnison’s habitat is south of the Colorado River in Colorado and Utah.

The Fish and Wildlife Service is now deciding whether the showy, strutting bird should be listed as a “threatened species,” which would be a step down from its original proposal to classify it as “endangered.”

The bird’s habitat includes areas that are home to oil and gas development too; industry representatives say an ESA listing and the stiff protections that come with it could shut down much of that activity.

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