In what could be the biggest Endangered Species Act decision in history, the Obama administration will decide in September whether to tie up sage grouse habitat across 165 million acres in the West, including Utah.

Reports Environment & Energy Publishing:

Few birds have ruffled so many feathers -- from the West's scruffy rangelands to the halls of Congress.

"The greater sage grouse is this year's northern spotted owl," Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) said at a House Natural Resources Committee hearing last week.

The Fish and Wildlife Service's decision will be the most scrutinized ESA verdict since 1990, when it listed the owl as threatened in the Pacific Northwest, decimating the region's timber industry.

The stakes look to be even higher for the grouse, which roams lands more than a dozen times as vast as the owl's habitat. The grouse -- a flashy, boisterous bird whose males strut, pop and spar for attention -- shares its sagebrush habitat with more than 300 other species, including mule deer, pronghorn and elk.

The September listing deadline, which the administration agreed to as part of a sweeping settlement four years ago with environmental groups, has spurred an unprecedented push by federal agencies, states and landowners to preserve the West's vanishing sage-steppe ecosystem.