It Could Be Our Last Chance to Save the Greater Sage-Grouse and an Iconic Western Landscape
Guest post by Pew Charitable Trusts
A vast amount of this nation’s shared natural heritage—245 million acres—is owned and administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). For decades, the agency has often allowed energy development, mining, overgrazing and off-road-vehicle use on these lands at the expense of their many conservation values. Located largely in western states and Alaska, BLM lands represent many types of terrain—including the iconic Western sagebrush landscape—that serve as important habitat for animals like elk, mule deer, pronghorn and golden eagles.
This year, BLM has a pivotal opportunity to protect the iconic Western sagebrush landscape because of a special bird called the greater sage-grouse. The bird’s population has plummeted during the last century, with more than half of its sagebrush habitat lost or degraded—due in large part to unbalanced management of western lands. Now the sage-grouse and its habitat are in jeopardy, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will determine whether to list the greater sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act in 2015.
BLM can act now to keep America’s west wild. BLM is creating management plans to guide habitat conservation for the sage-grouse and other western wildlife. The sagebrush landscape, which stretches from the Dakotas to California, is one of the most imperiled in the United States. It once was over 240,000 square miles, but only about half remains today.
The BLM, which controls approximately half of the remaining sage-grouse habitat, is working with other federal agencies and 10 states on 15 sage-grouse plans that will guide the agency’s future land management decisions. This effort represents the largest single-species planning endeavor in the agency’s history. This plan aims to implement conservation strategies for the bird and its habitat that balance energy development, grazing, recreation and other activities traditionally allowed on public lands.
Unfortunately, the BLM’s draft plans fall short of what is necessary to save the sage-grouse and conserve the sagebrush lands where enthusiasts hunt, fish and enjoy the outdoors. BLM failed to incorporate conservation measures directed by its own scientific guidelines and to create internal consistency among plans. The wide variations in the agency’s management prescriptions create 15 different approaches to sage-grouse conservation within and across state boundaries, and hinder effective landscape-scale conservation of habitat.
There is still time for BLM to build an approach that balances conservation and other land use. The plans for the sage-grouse habitat must be strengthened—so they implement proactive, science-based conservation measures—and streamlined to provide a cohesive and consistent framework across the sagebrush landscape.
The public has an opportunity to ensure that the federal government develops proactive plans that balance conservation of this vital wildlife habitat with responsible energy development and other public land uses. President Barack Obama, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, and the federal agencies that work with BLM must hear from Americans who want the sage-grouse plans to provide uniform conservation measures that protect the animal’s habitat across public lands.
Please sign and share our petition urging President Obama and other decision-makers to protect the remaining healthy sagebrush habitat across our public lands for the greater sage-grouse and other wildlife that make their home in these remarkable places.
Photo credit: Jeannie Stafford/FWS