More than 80 bird and habitat-conservation organizations have signed a comment letter to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) supporting a proposed 10-million-acre mineral withdrawal to protect Greater Sage-Grouse habitat from hardrock mining. The letter also urges BLM to go further and protect all priority sagebrush habitat, as scientists have recommended.
Sent last week, the letter states that “best available science indicates that all priority areas for Greater Sage-Grouse conservation (PACs), approximately 35 million acres of federal lands, should be protected from all forms of mining to ensure grouse survival and recovery.”
Greater Sage-Grouse, Pat Gaines
As many as 16 million Greater Sage-Grouse once lived in the wide-open sagebrush of the West. That number has since plummeted to about 210,000 birds today. More than half of the bird's sagebrush habitat has been lost to development. The grouse's future now depends on conservation plans aimed at conserving Greater Sage-Grouse habitat and supporting sustainable economic development on portions of public lands across 10 western states.
Calls to Remove Grouse Habitat from Mining
The National Technical Team, comprising government scientists and sage grouse experts, was tasked with identifying the conservation measures needed to halt the decline of the species. For priority habitat, the team recommended “withdrawal from mineral entry based on risk to the sage‐grouse and its habitat from conflicting locatable mineral potential and development.”
Earlier this year, grouse conservation scientists sent a letter to Secretaries Sally Jewell of the U.S. Dept. of the Interior and Tom Vilsack of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. The letter urged “closing and recommending for immediate withdrawal lands from leasing or sale (including coal) under federal mineral laws for the maximum period allowed under law.”
Greater Sage-Grouse in Nevada, USGS
“To ensure the recovery of the Greater Sage-Grouse and the success of the administration's remarkable conservation planning initiative, the Bureau of Land Management should withdraw all priority habitat from mining,” said Steve Holmer, senior policy advisor for American Bird Conservancy, which initiated the letter. “The Bureau's environmental analysis should determine the benefits to Sage-Grouse if this larger area is protected.”
Important Habitat at Risk
The 10-million-acre withdrawal applies to sagebrush focal areas that government scientists have identified as perhaps the most important remaining Sage-Grouse population strongholds. However, some critically important sage grouse habitats in Wyoming, Colorado, Nevada, and California were not designated as focal areas and are not included in the proposed withdrawal.
Greater Sage-Grouse, Tom Reichner/Shutterstock
“The Bi-State Greater Sage-Grouse population in Nevada and California is very small—it's estimated to be less than 5,000 birds–and maximum protection of its remaining habitat fragments is crucial,” Holmer said. “The Bi-State Management Plan covering the Nevada portion of the habitat doesn't prohibit mining in grouse habitat and, because of potential mine expansions, the Bi-State Greater Sage-Grouse remains at risk.”