MILESTONE: Nevada Court Protects Nesting Bi-State Sage-Grouse from Off-Road Vehicles

The Bi-State Sage-Grouse has a reprieve from harmful off-road vehicles, after the Nevada District Court ruled in favor of nesting habitat protection. Photo by Agnieszka Bacal

On July 7, 2020, American Bird Conservancy (ABC) and other advocates for the rare Bi-State Sage-Grouse won in a legal case against off-roaders who planned a 250-mile dirt bike rally in Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest — one of the last places this isolated population of Greater Sage-Grouse can breed. The Nevada District Court upheld U.S. Forest Service measures put in place to protect the birds' nesting habitat.

Isolated from other sage-grouse populations, the Bi-State Sage-Grouse exists only in the Mono Basin along the California-Nevada border. With an estimated 3,305 birds, this population has fallen far below the 5,000-bird population threshold needed to maintain it well into the future.

“Recreation is a vital use of our public lands,” said Steve Holmer, ABC's Vice President of Policy. “In this case, however, the proposed use by off-roaders was at odds with the survival of this imperiled bird, occurring in prime nesting habitat just as the grouse were fledging their chicks.

“Motor rallies can take place in many other places,” Holmer continued. “But Humboldt-Toiyabe is one of the last places where Bi-State Sage-Grouse can raise their young. We're grateful to the Nevada District Court for deciding in favor of the grouse.”

The U.S. Forest Service measures that prevailed in this case were established to protect the grouse's breeding habitat from motorized vehicles, specifically large rallies, requiring buffers and seasonal limits to racing. The Sierra Trail Dogs Motorcycle and Recreation Club had sought to strike down this Forest Plan provision through its lawsuit, but based on the Nevada District Court's ruling, the group now must abide by the Forest Service requirements.

Over the past 150 years, the Bi-State Sage-Grouse's range has shrunk by nearly 50 percent, and what remains is reduced in quality. Overall, the bird's population has declined by more than 90 percent from historic levels.

ABC was joined by the Center for Biological Diversity, Western Watersheds Project, and WildEarth Guardians in the intervention to defend the Forest Service's limits on motorized use in sage-grouse habitats. The groups were represented by attorneys from the Stanford Law Clinic and Western Watersheds Project.

Other conservation groups have also been in court to challenge the denial of Endangered Species Act protections for the Bi-State Sage-Grouse, citing the plummeting population and ongoing threats from overgrazing, mining, and other activities. Based on the best available science, ABC recommends an Endangered listing for the Bi-State distinct population segment.

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Media Contact: Jordan Rutter, Director of Public Relations, 202-888-7472 | jerutter@abcbirds.org | @JERutter
Expert Contact:Steve Holmer, VP of Policy, 202-888-7490 | sholmer@abcbirds.org

American Bird Conservancy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. With an emphasis on achieving results and working in partnership, we take on the greatest problems facing birds today, innovating and building on rapid advancements in science to halt extinctions, protect habitats, eliminate threats, and build capacity for bird conservation. Find us on abcbirds.org, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (@ABCbirds).

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