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Sage grouse habitat map released

WILDLIFE — A breeding bird density map for the greater sage-grouse released today by the Department of Interior could be a step in controling development to help keep the prairie bird off the Endangered Species list.

The map identifies important areas having high density occurrences of greater sage-grouse, a ground-dwelling bird that inhabits much of the West. These areas were determined by estimating the male’s attendance on “leks,” the name biologists use to describe the communal breeding grounds of the bird.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management will work with the state fish and wildlife agencies to refine the map by incorporating more specific state-level data.

Kempthorne to Congress: Big spill never expected, pressure was for more drilling

Former Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, former Secretary of the Interior under President George W. Bush, told a congressional committee today he never anticipated an oil spill as large as the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but no one else did either, the AP reports. In fact, Kempthorne said when he testified to congressional committees as interior secretary, he was pointedly asked why Interior wasn’t doing more to expand offshore drilling, not less - questions that came at a time of $4-per-gallon gas prices. Click below to read a full report from the Associated Press on testimony this morning from Kempthorne and his predecessor, Gale Norton; current Secretary Ken Salazar also was scheduled to testify today. You can read Kempthorne’s full testimony here.

Among Kempthorne’s comments: “Until now, I have declined multiple media requests to comment in the belief America was best served by letting those now in charge to stay focused on job No. 1, of stopping the oil spill.” He said he agreed to testify “out of respect for Congress where I served for six years.” Kempthorne told the lawmakers, “I do not envy my successor. … It is easy to second-guess and criticize.” He noted that while he was secretary, royalty rates for deepwater offshore leases were increased twice. But, he said, “There had not been a major oil spill in 40 years.” All planning for future drilling, he said, will be forever changed by the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. “Never again will decision makers not include planning for events that might be low-probability events, but which, in the unlikely event they occurred, would be catastrophic.”

Kempthorne also addressed the scandal at the Minerals Management Service. “On Sept. 18, 2008, I unequivocally told congress that the conduct disgusted me and there would be prompt personnel action. Because that action was under way, I was advised by Interior’s lawyers that I could not discuss it in detail. Now I can, including the fact that we fired people.” He said, “Those involved were fired, retired, demoted or disciplined to the maximum extent permissible. The facts are that all of these actions were taken before we left office.”