Despite Population Crash, Wyoming Grouse Plan Weakens Protections
WildEarth Guardians submits critique of the Wyoming sage grouse plan
LARAMIE, Wyo. – Today, WildEarth Guardians submitted a detailed critique of the proposed Wyoming sage grouse plan amendment, demonstrating that opening Core Areas to additional oil and gas leasing and making mandatory protections optional will hinder Wyoming’s effort to recover sage grouse to healthy population levels and all but assure Endangered Species Act listing.
For several years now, the Bureau of Land Management has pulled most lands proposed for oil and gas development out of lease auctions if they are in sage grouse Core Areas. Core Areas are designated habitat key to sage grouse survival and recovery. The Wyoming plan would reverse this precautionary approach, opening up Core Areas to leasing once again.
“The conservation measures listed in the BLM’s Preferred Alternative are written to allow the BLM to ignore them on a whim,” said Erik Molvar, Wildlife Biologist with WildEarth Guardians. “Sage grouse need real, science-based protections that are guaranteed to apply every time an industrial project is proposed in key habitats.”
Statewide, sage grouse populations have declined by 60 percent since 2006, and state Core Area strategies have been in place over most of this period.
“The precipitious decline in sage grouse populations despite Core Area protections clearly demonstrates that fossil fuels development continues to majorly impact these amazing birds,” Molvar said.
Until recently, Wyoming was seen as an area where sage grouse were relatively numerous. However, statewide populations have dwindled to a fraction of their already depressed numbers, and the birds are becoming quite rare. The population data and scientific predictions for northeastern Wyoming are particularly troubling, indicating that this key population linkage with Montana and the Dakotas is in clear danger of disappearing entirely.
The federal government still has an opportunity to shore up its sage grouse protections and put the bird on the road to recovery, which would avert the need to list the bird as threatened or endangered in 2015.
To avert an Endangered Species Act listing, federal and state agencies will need to correct the failure of existing regulations to adequately protect sage grouse identified in Wyoming. That failure is most clear regarding oil and gas development, the biggest threat to sage grouse across Wyoming according to scientific reports.
“For the Wyoming plan to prevent ESA listing, it must include conservation actions that are both scientifically proven and certain to be applied,” said Molvar. “Instead, the BLM’s proposed plan amendment for Wyoming would make sage grouse conservation even more optional than it already is under the state Core Area policy, increasing uncertainty and undermining its chance for success.”
WildEarth Guardians’ analysis of the Wyoming Greater Sage-Grouse RMP Amendment Draft EIS is available upon request.
 The draft Upper Snake River Basin conservation plan documents a statewide count of breeding males of 44,500 in 2006 declining to 18,000 in 2013 (p. 17). Online at http://wgfd.wyo.gov/web2011/Departments/Wildlife/pdfs/SG_USRBASIN_DRAFT0005199.pdf.