Interior pursues plans for sage grouse protection in 10 western states

An unprecedented, landscape-scale conservation effort across the western United States has significantly reduced threats to the greater sage-grouse across 90% of the species’ breeding habitat and enabled the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to conclude that the bird does not warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell made the Sept. 22 announcement, saying the decision sets the groundwork for a 21st-century approach to conservation. The FWS reached this determination after evaluating the bird’s population status, along with the collective efforts by the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service, state agencies, private landowners and other partners to conserve its habitat. Despite long-term population declines, sage-grouse remain relatively abundant and well-distributed across the species’ 173-million acre range, Interior said.

“This is truly a historic effort – one that represents extraordinary collaboration across the American West,” said Jewell. “It demonstrates that the Endangered Species Act is an effective and flexible tool and a critical catalyst for conservation – ensuring that future generations can enjoy the diversity of wildlife that we do today. The epic conservation effort will benefit westerners and hundreds of species that call this iconic landscape home, while giving states, businesses and communities the certainty they need to plan for sustainable economic development.”

Jewell made the announcement at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge alongside Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead.

“Today’s decision reflects the joint efforts by countless ranchers and partners who have worked so hard to conserve wildlife habitat and preserve the Western way of life,” said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Together, we have shown that voluntary efforts joining the resources of private landowners, federal and state agencies, and partner organizations can help drive landscape-level conservation that is good for sage-grouse, ranching operations, and rural communities.”

The BLM and USFS on Sept. 22 announced that they have issued Records of Decisions finalizing the 98 land use plans that will help conserve greater sage-grouse habitat and support sustainable economic development on portions of public lands in 10 states across the West. The BLM and USFS also initiated the public comment process associated with their proposal to withdraw a subset of lands that are sage-grouse strongholds from future mining claims.

Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a Sept. 22 statement: “I am encouraged by Secretary Jewell’s announcement to implement conservation plans for the greater sage grouse across ten western states. This iconic bird of the west has suffered greatly on account of overgrazing, and the coal, oil, and gas development that has threatened their habitat. When introduced in May, the Sierra Club joined protests, calling for the plans to be strengthened by using the best available science. As these plans are implemented and we evaluate their effectiveness, the Department of the Interior must continue to monitor the sage grouse numbers to ensure that these plans are working.”

National Mining Association President and CEO Hal Quinn said in a May 28 statement about an earlier stage in this process: “The withdrawal of nearly nine million acres of federal lands located in 10 western states is unprecedented in scale, unwise from a minerals security standpoint and unnecessary to protect the greater sage grouse habitat. Mining operations are not a major threat to the sage grouse and projects can be designed to protect their habitat. Access to federal lands for mineral exploration and development is critical to maintain a strong domestic mining industry as these lands historically have, and will continue to, provide a large share of the metals and minerals that feed our ever-evolving manufacturing, technology, energy and defense sectors.”

The Colorado Mining Association (CMA) on Sept. 22 praised the decision to not list the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act, but strongly criticized Interior’s announced plans for implementation that will impact resource development in the west. CMA’s nearly 1,000 members include producers of coal and other minerals, as well as vendors and service providers to the mining industry.

“The Interior Secretary correctly cited state and local efforts to protect the species as the basis of the decision not to list,” said Stuart Sanderson, CMA President, “then ignores those plans in favor of a one size fits all federal scheme, including arbitrary restrictions limiting mining to a small percentage of impacted lands.”

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.