Testimony by Catherine Macdonald Regarding Sage Grouse Conservation

Delivered to To the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests and Mining for a hearing regarding the status of the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service’s efforts to implement amendments to land use plans and specific management plans regarding sage grouse conservation, and those agencies’ coordination activities with affected states

Washington, DC | June 28, 2016

Oral testimony, as delivered by Catherine Macdonald:


Chairman Barrasso, Ranking Member Wyden, and Members of the Subcommittee:

Thank you, it’s an honor to have the opportunity to testify on the federal agencies efforts to implement their Greater Sage-Grouse land use plan amendments.

My name is Catherine Macdonald, I serve as The Nature Conservancy’s Oregon Director of Conservation. Over the past six years my staff and I worked closely with federal and state agencies and a wide range of stakeholders to develop an “all lands, all threats” approach to Greater Sage-Grouse conservation in Oregon.

The Nature Conservancy has over 60 years of experience working with private landowners and governments across the nation and around the world. Our mission is to conserve the lands and waters upon which all life depends. Our efforts are grounded in science and collaboration. We work to find solutions that benefit nature and support healthy economies.

Stabilizing and increasing populations of the Greater Sage-Grouse is a priority for The Nature Conservancy. We are witnessing a tremendous loss of native sagebrush habitat across the West. Conserving habitat for Greater sage-grouse will benefit 350 other species of conservation concern. Healthy sage grouse habitat is also good rangeland.

Conservancy scientists and practitioners are conducting research and helping public and private landowners to protect and restore Greater sage grouse habitat across the west.

In Oregon, for example, we are advancing research in partnership with USDA’s Agricultural Research Station in Burns. With an Italian pasta machine to make seed packets and some creative problem solving, we are working to improve the effectiveness of re-seeding sage grouse habitat after wildfire. In addition, we helped to design a decision support tool to identify where conservation investments will have the greatest benefit to Greater sage grouse, and are providing technical assistance to ranchers interested in enrolling in Conservation Agreements.

The work of many over the past 6 years achieved an historic accomplishment.

The federal agencies should be commended for the land use plan amendments they developed. The plans amendments applied sound science and provide a cohesive strategy for addressing threats across the range of the species. They were an essential ingredient to the 2015 determination that the Greater Sage-Grouse did not warrant listing under the Endangered Species Act. That was a high bar to reach.

In Oregon, the Bureau of Land Management, FWS, FS and NRCS have been valuable partners and problem solvers. In 2010 they began working proactively with the state of Oregon.

Over the course of the next 5 years they continuously engaged over 60 representatives from local governments, the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, energy companies, conservation organizations, state agencies and our congressional delegation.

Senator Wyden, your leadership and staff’s participation in this effort was greatly appreciated, thank you.

Collectively, we discussed challenges and developed coordinated solutions that helped inform the Federal Plan Amendments and our State’s Action Plan.

In addition, the FWS and BLM assisted the Oregon Cattleman’s Association and officials from 8 Oregon counties to develop Candidate Conservation Agreements that provide options, guidance, and critical assurances for ranchers with sage grouse habitat.

This kind of collaboration continues today. For example,

  • The federal agencies are sharing data and developing joint implementation methodologies with our state and local governments.
  • In response to the threat of wildfire the BLM is working with Rangeland Fire Protection Associations to coordinate wildfire response in priority habitats.
  • After the massive Soda Fire that burned more than 400 square miles —in Oregon and Idaho, the federal government provided funding for restoration efforts on private lands.

These examples of collaboration give us optimism that we will be able to collectively resolve challenges in the future.

The Nature Conservancy remains concerned about legislative attempts to stall, delay or limit the federal agencies authority to implement their Greater Sage Grouse resource management plan amendments.

Greater Sage-Grouse populations have declined by more than 97 %. Given that the BLM and the Forest Service manage nearly two-thirds of the remaining Greater Sage-Grouse habitat, the federal plan amendments are a critical part of the effort to conserve Sage-Grouse.

Delaying or suspending the plan amendments will distract us from the most important job at hand, making significant progress implementing actions to stabilize and rebuild sage grouse populations.

The federal agencies need the authority and resources to act. Oregon is counting on our federal partners. They need to be able to implement their plans in Oregon and across the west to avoid the need to list the species 5 years from now.

We urge Congress to give the federal agencies the support and resources they need to collaborate with states and public land stakeholders to implement the plans. The federal agencies have already conducted public meetings across the west to get input on next steps. We hope that this engagement will continue and that all stakeholders will make a strong commitment to collaboration.

With so much at stake, now is the time for all parties to focus on effective implementation.

Again, thank you for the opportunity to present my testimony to the Subcommittee.

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.

Contact information

Heather Layman


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