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Humboldt-Toiyabe Sage Grouse Plan Mixes Strong Protections, Loopholes

Plan Likely to Further Population Declines

SPARKS, Nev. – The Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest today released its proposed sage grouse plan amendment, a baffling mix of weak measures for certain types of industrial development and strong, science-based protections for some resource uses. All told the plan is likely to result in further population declines for the already critically imperiled Mono Basin sage grouse population on the California-Nevada border. This population, also known as the ‘Bi-State Distinct Population Segment,’ is under consideration for listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

“With the Mono Basin population teetering on the brink of extinction, we were expecting a sage grouse plan that protects the small and isolated populations that remain in this area,” said Erik Molvar, wildlife biologist with WildEarth Guardians. “Instead, the proposed plan includes a schizophrenic mix of politically-driven compromises and science-based standards.”

The Forest Service considered three alternatives. The Proposed Alternative is a modified version of the originally proposed plan amendment, featuring livestock grazing goals that include science-based targets for sage grouse habitats, but then also allowing the siting of energy development and mining in the midst of sensitive nesting areas. A ‘Conservation Alternative’ features stronger, science-based protections for industrial development and other permitted uses, targets vulnerable sage grouse habitats for fire suppression, and places a moratorium on livestock grazing. A third, status-quo option would forego any changes to national forest management altogether failing to protect sage grouse.

“While the Conservation Alternative does the best job of hitting the mark based on the science, key sage grouse protections are missing from it and the other two options,” said Molvar.

According to the best available science concerning sage grouse conservation, published by the BLM’s National Technical Team in 2011, there should be no more than one industrial site per square mile, and priority habitats should be closed to future oil, gas, and geothermal leasing. But none of the alternatives would implement these important protections.  The failure to adopt these measures will lead directly to further declines of sage grouse populations over time.

Federal law requires that Environmental Impact Statements explore a full range of reasonable alternatives, including those that best protect the environment.  The plan’s failure to even consider what is necessary to protect and recover the Mono Basin sage grouse is of major concern to WildEarth Guardians.

“On the whole, the proposed plan falls short of what’s necessary to maintain even today’s depressed and fragmented sage grouse populations in the Mono Basin,” Molvar concluded. “The Forest Service must adopt mandatory standards that protect the bird from every threat it faces if this irreplaceable bird is to have a fighting chance at survival.”

 


 

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