Conservationists Challenge Grazing in Bodie Hills to Protect Mono Basin Sage-Grouse

Conservationists Challenge Grazing in Bodie Hills to Protect Mono Basin Sage-Grouse

Western Watersheds Project and WildEarth Guardians are suing the the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in federal court over two decisions the BLM’s Bishop Field Office made to reauthorize cattle grazing on four public land allotments in the Bodie Hills just north of Mono Lake despite their impacts to imperiled Bi-State sage-grouse.

“The BLM’s insistence on continued grazing threatens the survival of this magnificent bird,” said Michael Connor, California Director for Western Watersheds Project. “The Bi-State sage-grouse population is declining, yet we have to seek a court order to get the BLM to take the strong measures that are needed to conserve the species.”

Bi-State sage-grouse are a distinct population of greater sage-grouse found in the vicinity of Mono Lake on the border of California and Nevada. The total population of Mono Basin sage-grouse is estimated at fewer than 5,000 birds and is declining. In March 2010, the Obama Administration determined that this ground nesting sage-grouse warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act.

“There is a high risk of the grouse disappearing from most of its current range in the bi-state area,” said Mark Salvo, Director of the Sagebrush Sea Campaign for WildEarth Guardians. “BLM managers must take meaningful action to avoid driving these sage-grouse toward extinction.”

The conservation organizations have challenged BLM’s decision to authorize grazing by as many as 3,057 cattle on four allotments: Bodie Mountain, Mono Sand Flat, Aurora Canyon, and Potato Peak, totalling more than 133,000 acres of public land. Continued livestock grazing on these BLM public lands threatens the Bi-State sage-grouse by degrading habitat, disturbing nesting sage-grouse, and by promoting the spread of West Nile Virus carrying mosquitoes. The sage-grouse is highly susceptible to West Nile Virus and several Mono Basin birds have died from West Nile Virus over the last few years. Domestic livestock alter sagebrush habitat and compete for native grasses and forbs that provide essential nutrients the grouse need to thrive and reproduce. Livestock trample sagebrush, compact the soil, and destroy the surface soil crusts that serve to retain moisture, prevent the invasion of nonnative weeds, and limit wildfire.

Mono Basin Sage Grouse
Mono Basin Sage Grouse


Western Watersheds Project, WildEarth Guardians and other organizations petitioned to list the Mono Basin sage-grouse as “threatened” or “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act in 2005. The Fish and Wildlife Service initially issued a negative finding on the petition in December 2006, which conservation organizations challenged in federal court for failure to apply the proper standard of review to the petition. The Service announced a new, positive finding on the listing petition in April 2008 and initiated a full status review to determine whether the subpopulation should be listed under the Endangered Species Act. The agency finally announced in March 2010 that the Bi-State sage-grouse are warranted for protection, but listing is presently precluded by other, higher priorities.

The range of Mono Basin sage-grouse is about 7,000 square miles, an area about one and half times the size of Los Angeles County. They occur in small localized populations within this range, many of which are in danger of extirpation. Research from 2008 found that nest initiation and chick survival were reduced among sage-grouse studied in Mono County, California.

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