Associated Press – RENO, Nev. – An unprecedented attempt to protect sage grouse habitat across parts of more than 900 square miles of privately owned land in Nevada will begin under a deal Thursday involving the federal government, an environmental group and the world’s largest gold mining company.
The agreement comes as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approaches a fall deadline for a decision on whether to protect the greater sage grouse, a bird roughly the size of a chicken that ranges across the West, under the Endangered Species Act.
Commercial operations, including mining companies and oil and gas producers, are entering into such deals in an effort to keep the bird off the threatened or endangered list because the classification would place new restrictions on their work.
The deal involves Barrick Gold Corp., The Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management and Fish and Wildlife Service. It establishes a “conservation bank,” providing the mining firm credit for enhancing critical habitat, in exchange for flexibility in future operations. It aims to preserve and restore more habitat than is lost through development while at the same time providing Barrick with more certainty as it maps out new mining plans.
“This is the kind of creative, voluntary partnership that we need to help conserve the greater sage grouse, while sustaining important economic activities on western rangelands,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said.
The agreement “strikes the right balance between economic development and conservation,” said Michael Brown, executive director of Barrick’s U.S. operations.
Similar efforts already are underway on a much smaller scale involving ranching operations in Oregon and Wyoming.
Scientists estimate the sage grouse population is less than half what it was in the early 19th century it inhabited an estimated 450,000 square miles of sagebrush across the West.
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