The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has asked a federal judge in Idaho for a one-week extension for submitting an endangered species finding for the greater sage grouse.
Attorneys for Fish and Wildlife requested the extension Monday because the agency's director, Sam Hamilton, died Saturday after suffering chest pains while skiing in Colorado. They pointed out that Fish and Wildlife officials who otherwise would be working on the finding will be attending Hamilton's funeral Wednesday.
A deadline this Friday to pursue listing of sage grouse as either endangered, not endangered, threatened or warranted for listing but precluded by higher priorities results from a lawsuit filed by Idaho-based Western Watersheds Project.
The group's executive director, Jon Marvel, said Tuesday that Western Watersheds doesn't oppose the request before U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill to extend the deadline to March 5.
"Under the circumstances, I think there would not be any opposition," Marvel said of Winmill.
Winmill ruled in 2007 that political pressure had tainted an earlier Fish and Wildlife decision not to list sage grouse. Last year, he gave the agency until Friday to issue a new finding.
Winmill hadn't decided on the extension as of Tuesday morning, according to court officials.
Sage grouse can be found in 11 states: Wyoming, Nevada, Montana, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California and the Dakotas. The chicken-size, brown bird has been in decline due to loss of their sagebrush habitat, biologists said.
About half of North America's sage grouse are believed to be in Wyoming.
Conventional gas drilling in Wyoming has led to numerous wells, roads, pipelines and other facilities in sagebrush habitat. Coal-bed methane drilling in Wyoming also has created breeding grounds for mosquitoes that transmit West Nile virus, to which sage grouse have little, if any, resistance.
Invasive cheatgrass, which is susceptible to frequent burning, has taken a toll on sagebrush in Nevada.
Officials in the oil and gas, wind energy and livestock industries worry that new regulations to protect sage grouse could make their business more difficult across much of the West.