The greater sage-grouse today is found in only 11 states and two Canadian provinces.
Greater Sage-Grouse. The greater sage-grouse today is found in only 11 states and two Canadian provinces. © Joe Kiesecker/TNC

Newsroom

Administration Weakens Protections for Greater Sage-Grouse

New Plans Risk Habitat Loss, Create Uncertainty

Arlington, Va.

Today, the Bureau of Land Management finalized resource management plans rolling back protections for the Greater Sage-grouse, an iconic western bird, across public lands in 11 Western states. The decision to weaken protections for the species undermines an existing framework – developed through a decade-long collaborative effort between the federal government, states, conservation, industry, agriculture and other interests – which, in 2015, supported a decision to preclude the need to list the species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The following is a statement by Lynn Scarlett, Vice President for Public Policy and Government Relations, at The Nature Conservancy:

“Today’s decision walks away from the best chance we have to avoid the Greater Sage-grouse’s listing under the Endangered Species Act. Not only do the new plans weaken the protections for the sagebrush ecosystem that supports the Sage-grouse and 350 other species, they undermine the regulatory certainty stakeholders need to collaborate and avoid a listing.

“While the administration solicited input from and worked with states on these changes, the final framework undermines federal responsibility in implementing common-sense measures to ensure conservation of the species, including prioritizing energy lease sales outside of essential habitat and using compensatory mitigation to offset some impacts of development. These changes create greater uncertainty, undermine hard-earned collaboration in the sagebrush ecosystem and risk eroding the Sage-grouse’s habitat, making a future listing more likely.

“Given these changes, the Department of the Interior should initiate a full, five-year status review of the species’ population next year. We also urge states to reaffirm their leadership in the conservation of the Sage-grouse and, in partnership with other stakeholders, help implement these plans in a manner needed to save this Western icon and sustain the habitats on which it depends.”

BACKGROUND

Through decades of partnerships with ranchers, wildlife managers, mining and energy companies, scientists and government agencies, The Nature Conservancy has worked across the Western United States to conserve sagebrush habitats for species like the Greater Sage-grouse.

In 2015, an unprecedented effort among a wide range of stakeholders resulted in Sage-grouse management plans meant to manage responsible energy development and other activities in the West while protecting the grouse’s habitat. These plans used best available science to maintain core protections needed for the Sage-grouse, while still allowing states some flexibility to implement the framework based on individual needs. But the administration moved to weaken that framework last year, releasing its new management proposal in December.

Effective management of sage brush habitat protects the bird and is also integral to the lives of many western communities, from ranching to recreation. These special places are home to 350 other species of important American plants and animals, including elk, mule deer pronghorn antelope, golden eagles, and bluebirds.

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 72 countries, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.