US Fish and Wildlife expands program enlisting ranchers in protecting sage grouse

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PORTLAND, Oregon — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is expanding a program that allows Oregon ranchers to make improvements to help declining populations of sage grouse, in return for assurances they won't face further restrictions if the species is listed under the Endangered Species Act.

The service started the program in Harney County, and on Tuesday formally proposed expanding it to Baker, Crook, Deschutes, Grant, Lake, Malheur and southern Union counties.

Service spokesman Brent Lawrence says the proposal goes through a 30-day public comment period and could become final by January or February.

Greater sage grouse populations have dropped sharply in recent decades due to disease, pressure from the energy industry, wildfires and other factors.

The service is to decide whether to list them by September 2015.

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