The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced a proposal to list the bistate sage grouse as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, affording special protections to about 5,000 birds along the California-Nevada border.
The bird is a genetically distinct subpopulation of the Mono Basin sage grouse, and officials were petitioned to list it for protection in 2005. In California, the birds are found in Inyo, Alpine and Mono counties.
Federal biologists estimate that about six groups of birds are occupying about half of their historical range. Four of the six populations are at risk for loss, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says.
Sage grouse are legally hunted in California and Nevada.
The greater sage grouse is a larger animal found in sagebrush communities in the upper Rockies. The bird, also called the "prairie chicken," depends on sagebrush and is in peril because of habitat loss. Much of the grouse's suitable habitat is found in energy-rich regions where sagebrush is dwindling.
In California and Nevada, the bistate sage grouse's habitat also is being disturbed by livestock grazing, roads and invasive species. The proposed listing announced Friday would designate more than 1.8 million acres as critical habitat to support the bird's recovery.
Sage grouse are charismatic Western birds known for elaborate courtship dances performed by male birds. Each spring, males gather in large groups of "leks" and dance and strut to impress females.