Las Vegas Sun

July 29, 2014

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State approves $300,000 for sage grouse protection

The Legislative Interim Finance Committee has allocated $304,000 to start identifying potential habitats for the sage grouse bird and prevent the federal government from putting a large part of rural Nevada off limits to mining, agriculture and outdoor recreation.

The number of sage grouse is declining across western states and the government is considering declaring it an endangered species. It would decide which lands should be set aside for the preservation of the bird.

The money, from the contingency fund, will be used to set up a counsel and hire staff to narrow down the prime areas for sage grouse habitats.

Leo Drozdoff, director of the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, told the committee that federal closure of the land would be damaging to Nevada's economy.

Some committee members worried about including this money in the upcoming 2014-15 biennial budget with the state short of cash.

Gerald Gardner, chief of staff for Gov. Brian Sandoval, said the governor was committed to finding money in the existing budgets to continue program. And the administration is looking for other sources of money.

Assemblywoman Maggie Carlson, D-Las Vegas, said she had concerns about the money. There are lots of demands on the state and "Every thing will be on the table" at the upcoming Legislature, she said.

She said that economic and tourism could possibly ante up some money.

Assemblyman Pete Goicoechea, R-Elko, said the state "has got to bring local government to the table."

Supporters stressed that the state gets to be moving now to convince the federal government it is taking step to protect the birds.

State officials could not estimate the number of sage grouse in Nevada but said they are working to stop a decline in the habitats.

Kenneth Mayer, director of the state Department of Wildlife, estimated there are 12 million acres that will be surveyed to find the prime habitats.

Mayer was questioned by Assemblyman Tom Grady, R-Yerington, about allowing hunting seasons for the bird. He said the killing of the birds was not contributing to the decline as new birds are born.

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