The U.S. government denied protection on Tuesday to a type of prairie bird found in Nevada and California in a victory for mining and ranching groups who feared sage-grouse protections could restrict their livelihoods.
Federal officials said the move to exempt the so-called bi-state population of greater sage grouse from Endangered Species Act protection comes as the federal government considers whether to impose measures to protect a broader species of the bird that lives in nearly a dozen U.S. states.
The U.S. Department of the Interior said a key factor in Tuesday's decision was a $45 million conservation plan developed by federal and state officials and others to ensure the health of the animal.
"It's a conservation success story. It has sound science behind it, that's the only way we can make these decisions" U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said at an event in Reno, Nevada, where she was joined by Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval, a Republican.
Millions of sage-grouse are believed to have once inhabited a broad expanse of the Western United States and Canada. The ground-dwelling birds, which have pointy tail feathers and are known for the males' elaborate mating displays, are estimated to number between 200,000 and 500,000 birds in 11 Western states including Washington state, Colorado and Idaho.
The bi-state population of greater sage-grouse, which is genetically distinct, numbers between 2,500 and 9,000 birds on about 4.5 million acres (1.82 million hectares) of high desert straddling the California-Nevada border, the U.S. Department of the Interior said.
In 2013, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed listing the bi-state population of greater sage-grouse as threatened based on significant population declines from the loss of habitat and other factors.
The agency had also drawn up plans to designate a critical habitat for the bird, which is also known as the Mono Basin sage grouse, but those habitat protections are being withdrawn as well, officials said.
Measures called for under the conservation plan for California and Nevada include management of livestock and wild horses to prevent their interference with the bird and habitat restoration projects, officials said.
But environmentalists said that is not enough.
"The whole reason the species is going down is because people have an economic interest in destroying its habitat and those economic interests are going to persist," said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director for the Center for Biological Diversity.