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New Humboldt-Toyaibe National Forest draft plan a step in the right direction for unique population of sage-grouse
Additional Contact: Courtney Sexton, Defenders of Wildlife, (202) 772-0253
RENO, Nev. – The Forest Service’s newly released revised draft sage-grouse plan amendment for the Humboldt–Toiyabe National Forest in Nevada and California drew cautious praise from conservation organizations. The amendment is intended to improve sage-grouse habitat on public lands administered by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management in the Mono Basin region along the California-Nevada border. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed listing the genetically unique Mono Basin, or “Bi-State,” sage-grouse as ‘threatened’ under the Endangered Species Act as the Bi-State Distinct Population Segment of greater sage-grouse. A final listing decision is due by April 28, 2015.
“While the original amendment offered very little to protect sage-grouse on public lands, the new draft makes some headway in limiting the serious effects of mineral development, off-road vehicle use and other threats in key sage grouse habitats,” said Erik Molvar, wildlife biologist with WildEarth Guardians. “It appears the Forest Service heard our concerns about inadequate sage-grouse conservation measures with these proposed improvements in the draft plan.”
Livestock grazing is the most widespread land use in sage-grouse range, including in the Mono Basin area, and is tied to the increased probability and frequency of wildfire.
“New grazing standards must, first and foremost, maintain and restore habitat resiliency,” said Mark Salvo, director of federal lands conservation for Defenders of Wildlife. “The new plan offers improvements in this regard, but livestock could still degrade sage-grouse habitat under the proposed alternative.”
Mineral prospecting and mining claims are widespread in the planning area and also present a major threat to sage-grouse and their habitat. The new draft plan includes some modest protections from mining and oil and gas drilling, factors ignored in the original plan amendment.
“Drilling and mining can have major impacts on sage-grouse, and have proven to be the biggest single factor in population declines across several western states,” added Molvar. “The threats from mineral development need to be minimized through the new forest plan, closing Priority Habitats to future mineral leasing and mining claims, especially given that there is little interest in oil and gas development in the area.”
Conservation groups also expressed skepticism regarding the effectiveness of lek buffers under the Forest Service’s proposed plan. Leks are the birds’ breeding grounds, and preservation of these grounds is critical to sage-grouse survival. According to scientific studies, all suitable habitat within 4 miles of leks is classified as important for nesting. Land use plans need to include adequate protection specifically in these areas.
“Remaining bi-state sage-grouse populations are small, isolated, and threatened by myriad factors,” concluded Salvo. “The Mono Basin grouse will certainly require the protections and resources provided by the Endangered Species Act to recover, but strong protections on federal public lands will help speed that recovery.”