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Conservation Group calls for Concrete, Enforceable Standards
Laramie, Wyo. – WildEarth Guardians today analyzed the newly proposed federal plan to conserve sage grouse across Idaho and the southwestern corner of Montana. The agencies’ preferred alternative lacks enforceable standards, doing little more than stating general goals.
“Overall, this plan lacks the kind of specific and adequate conservation measures required to maintain sage grouse in Idaho and southwest Montana,” said Erik Molvar, Wildlife Biologist with WildEarth Guardians. “Sage grouse have declined for decades because of just this type of lackadaisical effort at protecting their habitat. We’re calling on the federal agencies to roll up their sleeves and get to work creating scientifically sound, specific standards that can be shown to protect sage grouse and allow their populations to recover.”
Mismanagement of livestock grazing in sage grouse habitat is the greatest threat to sage grouse populations in this area, contributing most to the bird’s decline. “Stronger and more specific measures are needed to ensure that overgrazed rangelands are returned to health, and specifically to ensure that streamside habitats, critically important to sage grouse when they are raising their chicks, are not damaged by overuse from livestock,” said Molvar. “You only have to look across the border in Nevada to find federal plans that are getting serious about making public lands grazing more compatible with sage grouse. The Idaho – Southwest Montana plan should follow this example.”
Cheatgrass invasion is a result of overgrazing. The pattern of frequent wildfires that follows cheatgrass invasion is the biggest threat to sage grouse survival across this region. “The Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service need to take decisive steps to stem the spread of cheatgrass and its destruction of sage grouse habitat.” said Molvar.
WildEarth Guardians also raised concerns with proposed management of energy development in the most sensitive sage grouse habitat. The plan proposes including protections for sage grouse when future oil and gas leases are considered, but few protections would apply for the existing leases held by energy corporations.
“One of the few bright spots of the proposed plan is the closure of most of Idaho to future oil and gas leasing because almost the whole state is rated as having low potential for oil and gas,” added Adam Rissien, Northern Rockies Conservation Manager for WildEarth Guardians based in Missoula, Montana. “However, significant areas of southwest Montana rated moderate for oil and gas potential would remain open to leasing. Moreover, while BLM would apply a limit of one wellsite per square mile and 3% surface disturbance of the land, which are appropriate levels according to sage grouse biologists, wells could be sited as close as six-tenths of a mile from active grouse leks, in the middle of prime nesting habitat. Any wells sited in these sensitive areas can be expected to drive down sage grouse populations, despite all other management strategies”
Additionally, over 60,000 acres in Idaho are currently leased for geothermal development. Most of those leases are in sage grouse habitat, but sage grouse protections provided under the leases are minimal.
“Managing our public lands in a way that supports sage grouse recovery will benefit everyone that lives in these areas,” said Molvar. “Healthy rangelands don’t just benefit the sage grouse, they benefit livestock grazers. A more thoughtful approach to energy development across Idaho and southwest Montana will prevent the kind of environmental disasters and social upheaval that has wracked Wyoming and other fossil-fuel-producing states over the past several decades. If the federal agencies can get sage grouse conservation right, it will be a boon to the entire region.”