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BLM Announces New Sage-Grouse Conservation Strategy

Conservationists Urge Agency to Address Multiple Threats to the Species

Additional Contact:

Steve Holmer, Senior Policy Advisor, American Bird Conservancy * 202-234-7181 x 216 * sholmer@abcbirds.org

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has recognized that current management is failing to conserve Greater Sage-Grouse on public land, and announced today that it will develop a new rangewide conservation strategy for the species. The agency has provided little detail on how the new plan will be developed and what management changes it may propose.

“This plan is long overdue, and we still need to know what BLM intends to do for sage-grouse,” said Mark Salvo, Director of the Sagebrush Sea Campaign for WildEarth Guardians. “What prescriptions will it include for energy development, livestock grazing, and cheatgrass control? The devil is in the details.”

The agency’s announcement follows requests by conservation organizations, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and directors of four western state fish and wildlife agencies for the BLM to develop new and improved regulatory mechanisms to conserve and restore sage-grouse and sagebrush habitat. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found current BLM resource management plans lacking when it declared the Greater Sage-Grouse a candidate for Endangered Species Act listing in March 2010.

Conservation organizations have previously described what a range-wide sage-grouse conservation plan must include to be successful. The plan must involve all relevant federal agencies and cover all federal public lands, not just BLM land; it must be based on the best available science on Sage-grouse and sagebrush steppe; prescriptions for conserving grouse must be regulatory, not voluntary; and all affected local land use plans must be amended so that the same prescriptions are applied throughout the range of sage-grouse.

“BLM must involve other agencies in its planning process, and it cannot ignore science indicating that oil and gas drilling, wind energy development, grazing, roads, and utility corridors are hazardous to sage-grouse,” said Steve Holmer, Senior Policy Advisor for American Bird Conservancy. “Other bird species of conservation concern such as Sage Thrasher, and Brewer’s and Sage Sparrows should also be considered.”

In addition to prompting from conservation organizations and other agencies, the BLM may be motivated by a recent agreement between WildEarth Guardians and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to proceed with listing decisions for 251 candidate species, including Greater Sage-Grouse, over the next five years. Once certified by a federal court, the agreement requires the Service to submit either a proposed rule or a not warranted finding for sage-grouse by FY 2015.

The Greater Sage-Grouse is both an indicator and umbrella species for the sagebrush-steppe ecosystem. First described by Lewis and Clark in 1805, Nineteenth Century travelers and settlers reported huge flocks of sage-grouse that darkened the sky as they lifted from valley floors. The historic range of the Greater Sage-Grouse closely conformed to the distribution of sagebrush-steppe in what became thirteen western states and three Canadian provinces. However, since 1900 sage-grouse populations have declined. Greater Sage-Grouse distribution has been reduced by almost half, while range-wide abundance has decreased between 67 and 99 percent from historic levels.

 


 

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