Conservationists: New planning process offers chance for feds to “get sage grouse conservation right”

For Immediate Release

November 19, 2021

Contact:

Erik Molvar, Western Watersheds Project, (307) 399-7910

Greta Anderson, Western Watersheds Project, (520) 623-1878

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Bureau of Land Management today announced a new West-wide planning process for greater sage grouse conservation, and conservation group Western Watersheds Project hailed the effort as an opportunity to bring sage grouse habitat protections into alignment with the biological needs of the rare and dwindling species.

“With President Biden’s policy priorities of climate mitigation, ‘America the Beautiful,’ and curtailment of the biodiversity crisis, it’s high time for an ambitious plan to protect the sage grouse and save the sagebrush sea,” said Greta Anderson, Deputy Director of Western Watersheds Project. “The new planning process is a golden opportunity for the Bureau of Land Management to do the right thing.”  

“The last six years have provided clear and compelling evidence that the original 2015 sage grouse plans were inadequate to protect the sage grouse, were riddled with loopholes, failed to protect major proportions of priority habitats identified by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in many states, and had protection levels far lower than what we know sage grouse need to survive based on science,” said Erik Molvar, a wildlife biologist and Executive Director of Western Watersheds Project. “The new plan amendments should shore up habitat protections, apply them evenly across state jurisdictions, and make sure that all the lands identified as priority habitats get the strongest, and science-based protections they deserve.”

A USGS report released earlier this year shows sage grouse populations continuing on a downward trajectory, indicating that the current 2015 plans from 2015, which currently are in effect, are not achieving the hoped-for recovery for sage grouse populations. The best available science shows that sage grouse need large areas of undisturbed sagebrush, landscapes unfragmented with fences and roads, and healthy riparian habitats to successfully breed and rear their young.

“If the Bureau would just get serious about limiting livestock grazing and industrial use in sage grouse habitat, that would go a long way toward protecting the species and the 350 other species that depend on the sagebrush sea,” said Anderson. “The new plans should ensure sufficient grass cover, reduce the livestock-caused spread of cheatgrass, remove range infrastructure like fences and stock tanks, and ensure that sage grouse habitat standards are applied on every grazing lease, every year.”

Western Watersheds Project, along with co-plaintiffs WildEarth Guardians, Center for Biological Diversity, and Prairie Hills Audubon Society, represented by Advocates for the West, have challenged the 2015 West-wide sage grouse plans on the grounds that they include loopholes and inadequate conservation benchmarks that don’t measure up to scientifically-established habitat standards. In February of 2021, a judge ruled that the withdrawal of 10 million acres of lands designated as Sagebrush Focal Areas, abandoned under the Trump administration, must be re-started. That ruling came on the heels of an October 2019 ruling that blocked the Trump administration’s further weakening of the West-wide sage grouse plans.

“Recovering sage grouse populations to healthy levels is in everyone’s interest, from conservationists to extractive industries, but it will require significant changes to how commercial enterprises are conducting their activities in sage grouse habitats,” said Anderson.

Today’s announcement initiates a 75-day comment period starting with formal publication in the Federal Register on Monday, in which the Bureau will be accepting written comments on the preliminary proposal, as well as relevant data.

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