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Massive tree-cutting project could aid imperiled sage grouse

The largest-ever project in the U.S. to remove thousands of juniper trees to help imperiled sage grouse has started in southwestern Idaho.

The Bruneau-Owyhee Sage-Grouse Habitat Project aims to remove junipers on 965 square miles of state and federal land in Owyhee County.

Officials say the multi-year project that started this spring could become a template for other western states as junipers have expanded due to fire-suppression by humans and are taking over vast sagebrush areas and forcing out sage grouse.

Sage grouse survival is entirely dependent on sagebrush. Between 200,000 and 500,000 sage grouse remain, down from a peak population of about 16 million.

Environmental groups fought the project contending it was being driven by grazing interests.

But federal officials gave final approval earlier this year.

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