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Feds block drilling on 400,000 acres in Colorado, Utah to protect threatened bird species

This April 2014 photo provided by Colorado Parks and Wildlife shows a Gunnison Sage Grouse with tail feathers fanned near Gunnison, Colo. Federal authorities have issued a moratorium blocking oil, gas and coal leasing on 800,000 acres of public land in southwestern Colorado and eastern Utah that is habitat for the imperiled Gunnison sage grouse. (AP Photo/Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Dave Showalter)

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This April 2014 photo provided by Colorado Parks and Wildlife shows a Gunnison Sage Grouse with tail feathers fanned near Gunnison, Colo. Federal authorities have issued a moratorium blocking oil, gas and coal leasing on 800,000 acres of public land in southwestern Colorado and eastern Utah that is habitat for the imperiled Gunnison sage grouse. (AP Photo/Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Dave Showalter)

DENVER - The federal government is declaring more than 400,000 acres in Colorado and Utah off-limits to energy exploration to protect a little-known bird.

The Gunnison sage grouse is related to the better-known greater sage grouse. The federal government is considering listing both birds as endangered species. That could prohibit development and agriculture in huge chunks of the West.

Of the two birds, the Gunnison sage grouse is far less common and its habitat is restricted to southwestern Colorado and a small chunk of Utah. The protections announced this week formalize what the federal government is doing to conserve that bird.

Western states are bracing for far more sweeping restrictions to protect the greater sage grouse if it's listed as endangered.

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