Sage Grouse Under Fire

Sage Grouse vs transmission linesA US Fish and Wildlife Service report says that sage grouse are threatened by the loss and fragmentation of their sagebrush habitat. The habitat is being lost most commonly to wildfires which burn hotter because of invasive species. Ironically, another cause of habitat loss in the invasion of conifers into the sagebrush ecosystem, which is caused when fires don’t occur frequently enough.

A Wyoming Public Media report says that the USFWS report doesn’t tell people what to do, it just explains the threats.

A press release from the American Bird Conservancy says that the Bureau of Land Management should pay attention to the report.

You can find the 115-page report here.

In related news, the Idaho Statesman reports on an effort by a Nevada county on a local ranch to kill ravens with poison eggs and to reduce wildfires by increasing livestock grazing. The goal is to increase the number of sage grouse and stave off an endangered species listing.

The county does not expect support from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the article reports, and has already drawn the ire of a regional environmental group. The article says:

“Their fixation on killing and poisoning native wildlife and turning lands back into a dustbowl is really twisted,” said Katie Fite, the biodiversity director for the Idaho-based Western Watersheds Project.

Photo: Greater sage grouse by Stephen Ting. Courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service.



Sage Grouse on the Brink

A recent study of sage grouse in northeastern Wyoming says that the population there is just one severe weather event or West Nile outbreak away from extirpation. The study was conducted by three University of Montana wildlife biologists on behalf of the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

Read the report, a 46-page PDF, here.
Here’s the BLM web page with links to other info about the report
And here’s the story in the Casper Star-Tribune.

Despite the dire forecast, the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission will not close the three-day hunting season in northeastern Wyoming. The reasoning, says a Field & Stream blog post, is that because it is primarily energy development and disease, not hunting, that is causing the birds’ decline, hunters should not be penalized.

The blog post leans heavily on another article from the Casper Star-Tribune. Read that one here. That article notes that state biologists proposed closing the hunting season, but were over-ruled when dozens of people attended the Game and Fish Commission meeting to protest the closing. The article does not note the irony of the citizens who disagreed with the over-ruled scientists saying that the scientists’ recommendation was based on politics.

More troubling than even the possible extirpation of this population, or the politics behind the species’ management, is the fact that the Wyoming sage grouse management plan is the model for the nation. We’ve written about Wyoming’s plan being the national model before:
When a newspaper editorial praised the Wyoming sage grouse management plan;
And when the BLM took the lead on coordinating sage grouse management efforts across its range.

Photo: Greater sage grouse by Stephen Ting. Courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Revised: BLM Takes the Lead in Sage Grouse Management

Please note the revision to the earlier version of this post. Changes are in blue.Ā 

About a month ago, according to the New York Times, top state wildlife agency officials in Nevada, Colorado, Idaho and Wyoming asked the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to take the lead in coordinating efforts to conserve the remaining greater sage grouse population, since more than half of the greater sage grouse’s remaining habitat is on BLM land. (Read the NYT article here.)

At the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies’ summer conference earlier this month, BLM more or less agreed to that role, saying that, “In response to requests from state and local governments to facilitate ways to conserve greater sage-grouse and protect its habitat” it is putting together a strategy for greater sage grouse conservation that will emphasize partnerships and agreements between stakeholders. (Read the BLM announcement here.)

The BLM’s announcement breaks greater sage grouse habitat into two sections: an eastern section where the biggest threat is energy development (oil, gas and wind) and a western section where the greatest threats are invasive species (which other sources say is primarily cheatgrass), and wildfires. (Read the further info on the plan provided by BLM here.)

The NY Times article says that the BLM plan uses Wyoming’s “core area” strategy as its base. This strategy says that only five percent of the land can be developed within four miles of a known greater sage grouse lek (or breeding area). (Read Land Letter’s article on Wyoming’s “core area” strategy here.) And yes, that restricts development on some 15 million acres in Wyoming.

A BLM spokeswoman said that it is more accurate to say that the BLM plan is “informed” by the Wyoming plan. Different strategies will be put in place in different locations, depending on on-the-ground factors. She says that the strategy is a framework, not a document. The specifics are still evolving.

Read the articles, including this one in the Sacramento Bee, for more info on the greater sage grouse’s bid for listing under the Endangered Species Act (it was deemed warranted but precluded, which is now known, confusingly, as being a “candidate” species) and how the continued threat of its listing is driving this conservation activity.

Check out these articles from WyoFile, which give a lot more detail than was available when we first posted this news:
An article about Wyoming’s management plan.
An article about whether or not sage grouse will be listed as endangered species.

Photo: Greater sage grouse by Stephen Ting. Courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service.