greater sage grouse, © C. Robert Smith/NGS

Scientists Warn Federal Government of Failed Sage-grouse Conservation Plans

Even as Congress threatens to meddle again in sage-grouse conservation, the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service are moving forward on their unprecedented planning process to protect and recover the species on more than 60 million acres of public land. Credit to the agencies—it’s difficult to do one’s job with legislators scrutinizing your every step. But there are also some problems with the planning process that are entirely the agencies’ doing. Last week independent sage-grouse scientists highlighted those problems in a letter to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack that may be pivotal to the future of the species.

Sage-grouse and pronghorn, © Tatiana Gettleman/Flickr

Protecting the greater sage-grouse will also benefit 350 other species of conservation concern in the Sagebrush Sea, 60 of which are either listed or candidates for listing under the Endangered Species Act.

The scientists’ letter, endorsed by 11 experts on sage-grouse and sagebrush habitats, notes that draft conservation plans produced as part of the National Greater Sage-Grouse Planning Strategy do not correspond with the best available science, and so may fail to conserve the species and its habitat. As the scientists clearly, concisely stated, there are just some basic measures that management plans must adopt if they are to successfully protect and recover sage-grouse:

  • Protect sage-grouse breeding, nesting and brood-rearing habitats from oil and gas drilling and other development. It is well known that oil, gas and grouse don’t mix.
  • Ensure that livestock grazing is managed to allow for tall grasses and other vegetation to provide cover for sage-grouse hens and chicks from predators. Sage-grouse evolved with golden eagles, ravens and coyotes, but they need healthy habitat with lots of places to hide.
  • Do not purposefully burn, plow, spray or otherwise eliminate sagebrush habitat. There’s less and less of the Sagebrush Sea left every year for sage-grouse and hundreds of other wildlife. We’ve got to protect what’s left of the landscape.

The scientists’ letter affirms Defenders of Wildlife’s own assessment of the planning process last spring, finding that key management prescriptions in the draft plans fell short of what science recommends for conserving sage-grouse. The agencies’ failure to adopt these measures is perplexing to say the least, since the BLM itself has identified them as being important for the species’ persistence.

Fortunately, there is still time for federal planners to improve conservation plans for the grouse, and we understand that the agencies are working to strengthen certain measures in the final plans. But the finals can’t merely be better than the drafts—they’ve got to include all of the science-based standards included in the scientists’ letter if they are to achieve their purpose of conserving sage-grouse and their habitat.

The Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service are expected to release final plans this spring, when they will be subject to another round of public input. Armed with the scientists’ letter, Defenders of Wildlife and our partners will once again weigh in with recommendations to improve conservation measures for this iconic bird and the quintessential western habitat that it represents.

An Iconic Bird

Sage-grouse are the charismatic ambassador for the Sagebrush Sea, a little known but critically important western landscape that supports hundreds of fish and wildlife species.

Learn More »

Categories: Sage-grouse

14 Responses to “Scientists Warn Federal Government of Failed Sage-grouse Conservation Plans”

  1. John Woodrum

    Isn’t it amazingly special that the more man needs to spoil themselves with so called ‘necessities’, that nature always has to take a back seat to what is happening to their own environment? The only ones who can speak for them is the ungreedy people who care. But us caring ones can only do is speak, because we don’t have the money to fight millionaires. But in the long run, we will destroy the environment while what is left of nature will take over- after recovering. Amazing!?

  2. Nancy Hynes

    Please protect this land & species to the full extent according to the scientific expertise submitted via Director Mark Salvo.

  3. cindra broenner

    well-the bigger picture, as it were, is that the prarie has diminished for several decades now, and there was a time, that seeing what the condition will be like in the future. The future is here and now.So, it’s good that all along there has been a group lobbying for this.The Sage-grouse is a part of the plan to help with their homeland. So, Thanks for all you do, have done and will do.

  4. Gregory Littler

    Please Protect All Land & Birds To the full Extent.Once they are Gone You will Not See them Again. & your Kids will Never see them. & won’t Know what they are.

You May also be interested in