Congressional Riders Gutting Sage Grouse Protections

Greater Sage-Grouse, Tom Reichner/Shutterstock

(Washington, D.C., December 10, 2014) A leading bird conservation group, American Bird Conservancy (ABC), says that two recent Congressional actions will thwart west-wide efforts to protect iconic grouse species, the Greater and Gunnison Sage-Grouse, and may eventually doom the birds.

The House and Senate leadership announced that Congress expects to enact an omnibus appropriations bill for fiscal year 2015 containing a rider that would prevent—at least temporarily—funding that would make an endangered species listing decision on Greater Sage-Grouse possible. It would also hamstring conservation progress on Gunnison Sage-Grouse, which was just granted Endangered Species Act (ESA) protection in November.

In another action that could undermine recovery of sage grouse, the House last week passed a defense authorization bill that is soon expected to become law. A rider attached to the bill effectively waives conservation measures associated with livestock grazing across large tracts of grouse habitat on public lands.

"These are shocking actions that shamelessly circumvent science-driven wildlife protection laws," said Steve Holmer, Senior Policy Advisor of ABC. "This seems to be a case of ‘when the going gets tough' to conserve threatened birds, just bend the law to suit."

"Recent history shows that these riders, once accepted, often become permanent," Holmer continued. "For the Gunnison and bi-state population of Greater Sage-Grouse, this is a potentially devastating setback. These very small populations should be listed as ‘endangered' and given the full protection of the ESA. Sage grouse populations crashed while politicians delayed ESA protection for over a decade; further delay will only dim prospects for the species to recover. President Obama should veto these bills and insist that the grouse riders be removed."

American Bird Conservancy and partners have been working in support of a science-based regional planning initiative for Greater Sage-Grouse since 2009 and believe it offers the best path forward to stabilize grouse populations and to leave a legacy of protected wide-open spaces across the West.

"Unfortunately, the science-driven process appears to have been trumped by political maneuverings that may undercut this massive conservation effort—and eventually doom these remarkable birds," Holmer said.