Posted by: Sandy Steinman | June 1, 2015

Federal Sage Grouse Plans Key Recovery, But May Fall Short

Press Release WildEarth Guardians

Federal sage grouse plans key to sage grouse recovery, but may fall short

Will priority habitats be re-opened to leasing for coal, oil and gas?

WASHINGTON, D.C. — New plans to manage remaining sage grouse habitats across 10 western states are slated for release today, and offer an opportunity to stop long-term population declines if and only if they implement mandatory protections found to be necessary to stem further population declines and habitat destruction by scientists. The Interior Department will now choose a course between decisive action demanded by conservationists and scientists and voluntary measures proposed by states and industries struggling to avoid restrictions that might affect corporate profits.

“Even today, the sage grouse and their entire ecosystem face serious threats from oil and gas drilling, excessive livestock grazing, and habitat fragmentation throughout the sagebrush sea,” said Erik Molvar, wildlife biologist with WildEarth Guardians. “Up to this point, we’ve seen a lot of horse-trading and political compromises that fall short of adequate grouse protections, and soon we’ll see if the Department of Interior is more interested in cutting deals or implementing scientific standards to solve the problem of sage grouse declines.”

The agencies’ draft plans left sage grouse ‘Priority Habitats’ open to future leasing for oil and gas drilling and coal mining, threatening the last remaining sage grouse strongholds with further habitat destruction at the hands of a fossil fuel industry already responsible for major declines of the bird across much of its native range.

In a March letter, sage grouse scientists highlighted key science-based protections that should be included in the plans:

  • Close sage grouse Priority Habitats to future mineral leasing and claims;
  • Limit new development to a maximum of 3% surface disturbance for each square-mile section of sage grouse habitat;
  • Protect lands within 4 miles of sage grouse leks (or dancing and mating sites) under ‘No Surface Occupancy’ requirements for existing minerals leases;
  • Limit livestock grazing to provide adequate grass height for hiding cover in nesting and chick-rearing habitats;
  • Prohibit sagebrush control projects in key sage grouse habitats.

“The science is clear on what sage grouse need to survive, but whether the federal agencies have what it takes to require these science-based minimum standards remains to be seen,” said Erik Molvar, wildlife biologist with WildEarth Guardians. “The most recent data indicates that sage grouse populations are still trending downward, and that voluntary conservation programs have failed to turn the long-term declines around.”

The federal plans are seen as the most important factor in addressing threats facing the species.

“These federal plan amendments are the last chance for federal agencies to fix the ‘inadequate regulatory mechanisms’ that landed the greater sage grouse on the Candidate Species list,” Molvar concluded. “The Interior Department must now either adequately protect these birds in its federal plans or protect them under the Endangered Species Act.”

Conservation groups will be scrutinizing the details of the proposed federal plans over the next several days to determine whether the newly proposed plans meet science-based standards for sage grouse protection, and are free of loopholes that allow excessive levels of impact.


  1. Reblogged this on Coalition for American Wildbirds.


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