The Small Bird At The Center Of A Potentially Big Political Fight

A bird about the size of a chicken is causing a bit of a political storm in Nevada and in Washington, D.C.

The sage grouse has people drawing battle lines.

In Washington this week, a so-called “rider” was added to the federal spending bill preventing the Obama Administration from spending any federal dollars to protect the sage grouse.

And in Nevada, a state committee will introduce a resolution also asking the federal government not to protect the bird with the Endangered Species Act.

People opposed to protecting the bird in that way worry those measures will disrupt energy production and ranching efforts in the Silver State.

Meanwhile, wildlife groups say the bird is dwindling in numbers and the practice of fracking, which Nevada recently approved rules for, will further decrease their numbers.

Support comes from

Clark County Commissioner Tom Collins, who also sits on the Nevada Legislative Committee on Public Lands, doesn’t believe the bird needs protection by the federal government.

He told KNPR's State of Nevada that the proposed protection rules were "government overreach." He compared them to efforts to save the desert tortoise. However, he told KNPR's State of Nevada something needs to be done. 

"Everyone is interested in finding a way to protect the sage grouse," Collins said. 

He does believe there should be there should be consideration for the grouse which he described as "reasonable protection."

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the birds that once numbered in the millions over 13 states now total some half million in 11 states, including Nevada.

Shaaron Netherton, the executive director of Nevada Friends of the Wilderness, said that a lot has already been done to protect the bird. 

She thinks that all sides of the issue can come together to protect the animal, and says several groups are already working on it. 

"We can find solutions in Nevada that works well for us. We don’t need other people to tell us what we need to do," Netherton said.

She said that ranchers, industries, sports groups and conservationists have already come together to work on plans to protect bird. She doesn't agree with the language in the omnibus spending bill passed by Congress Thursday night, which removed federal spending on the grouse. 

"Why delay when so much has already been done?" Netherton added. 

She said the loss of the grouse with have a domino effect on the rest of the habitat and it could be an indicator of what could happen to other animals. 


Tom Collins, commissioner, Clark County Commission

Shaaron Netherton, executive director, Nevada Friends of the Wilderness

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