Chicken-sized bird could tip balance in U.S. Senate

The AP

An obscure, chicken-sized bird best known for its mating dance could help determine whether Democrats or Republicans control the U.S. Senate in November.

The U.S. government is considering listing the greater sage grouse as an endangered species. Doing so could limit development, energy exploration, hunting and ranching on the 165 million acres of the bird’s habitat across 11 Western states.

Apart from the potential economic disruption, the specter of the bird’s listing is reviving America’s centuries-old debates about local vs. federal control and whether to develop or conserve the region’s vast expanses of land.

It has become a key issue in Senate races because Republicans need to gain six seats for a majority. That scenario would allow the Republicans, who seem certain to maintain control of the House, to essentially shut down Barack Obama’s legislative agenda.

Two Republican congressmen running for the Senate in Montana and Colorado, Steve Daines and Cory Gardner, are co-sponsoring legislation that would prevent the U.S. government from listing the bird for a decade as long as states try to protect it.

Environmentalists and the two Democratic senators being challenged, John Walsh in Montana and Mark Udall in Colorado, oppose the idea. They say they don’t want a listing, either, but that the threat of one is needed to push states to protect the bird.

Three environmental groups sued to force the federal government to protect the bird after the government declined to list it as endangered in 2005. In a 2010 settlement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to decide on listing by September 2015.