Judge rejects gov't bid to delay sage grouse suit

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BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) -- A federal judge in Idaho has rejected the government's attempts to delay a lawsuit seeking protections for imperiled sage grouse across 11 Western states.

Success for the plaintiffs could have sweeping implications for livestock grazing, oil and gas drilling, and other industries that share blame for a dramatic decline in the game bird's population.

The Obama administration is seeking to prolong until 2015 its decision on whether grouse should receive Endangered Species Act protections. That's under a pending settlement with two wildlife advocacy groups in a separate federal court case.

But Judge B. Lynn Winmill in Boise said in a late Thursday ruling that a third group, Western Watersheds Project, can proceed with its lawsuit calling for more immediate measures to stop the bird's decline.