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Know the West


  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has decided not to protect the greater sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act (HCN, 12/20/04: Rulings keep the West open for business). In early January, the agency announced that even though there are only 100,000 to 500,000 of the birds left in 11 Western states and two Canadian provinces, they don’t warrant protection under federal law. This contradicts the agency’s earlier findings last April that listing "may be warranted" to protect the species from the impacts of agriculture and energy development.

Despite the "honorable intentions" of the multiple agencies involved, Nevada’s Division of Environmental Protection has acknowledged that cleanup of Yerington Mine — where Anaconda Copper Co. mined copper for more than 25 years, contaminating soil and groundwater with toxic and radioactive waste — merits bringing in the big guns (HCN, 12/20/04: Nevada BLM cleans out cleanup project manager). In December, the state requested that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency take the lead in cleanup at the site, which had been largely in the hands of the Bureau of Land Management since 2002.

The energy bill isn’t the only legislation being resurrected in 2005: Stubborn wilderness supporters are also reintroducing proposals that were sunk by the 108th Congress. These include bills protecting Washington’s Wild Sky, New Mexico’s Ojito Wilderness, California’s Northern California Coastal Wilderness, and three areas in Idaho: the White Clouds Wilderness, Jerry Peak Wilderness and the Owyhee Canyonlands. With a more conservative Congress, however, and the devoutly anti-wilderness Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., again at the helm of the powerful House Resources Committee, the bills’ bipartisan supporters, including Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., New Mexico Reps. Heather Wilson, R, and Tom Udall, D, Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., may have a hard time making the West wilder in the new year.