Although the Greater Sage-Grouse is not an ESA-listed species, its population has declined 98 percent from historic numbers. The grouse faces a severe decline in the amount of suitable breeding habitat due to energy development and other impacts on public lands.
New Riders Threaten Greater Sage-Grouse
American Bird Conservancy strongly supports existing regional grouse conservation plans as well as follow-up policies to the administration's planning initiative, including the proposed 10-million-acre mineral withdrawal, prioritized grazing-permit renewal for sagebrush focal areas, public disclosure of soft and hard trigger reviews, and application of a no-net-loss mitigation policy. However, legislative riders threaten to continue exempting Greater Sage-Grouse from Endangered Species Act protection, and to overturn the federal management plans.
The House has passed a National Defense Authorization Act that would exempt the grouse from ESA for 10 years and overturn the regional conservation plans. The House and Senate Interior Appropriations bills also includes another one-year exemption to ESA listing for the grouse. The House bill also prevents implementation of the management plans or 10-million acre mineral withdrawal.
Adding to our concern is an aggressive litigation campaign by local interests that seeks to do away with the grouse conservation plans. If these lawsuits against the government are successful, the Greater Sage-Grouse would be without any meaningful protection as a result of the moratorium on ESA listing that has been in effect the last two years and that is again being proposed by the House and Senate.
It is essential the ESA be restored for Greater Sage-Grouse to keep the management plans in place, and that individual species not be exempted from the law. Take action today and send your elected officials a letter in support of sage grouse conservation.
The Greater Sage-Grouse is best known for its dramatic breeding display — an iconic feature of the American West. Named for its preference for habitats dominated by big sagebrush, the bird’s digestive system is uniquely adapted for eating these plants. Sagebrush is essential for its survival and dominates its diet from autumn through early spring.
The bird’s total population was estimated at 142,000 in 1998 (including the Gunnison Sage-Grouse, which has since been described as a separate species). All told, Greater Sage-Grouse has seen its range cut in half and its population decreased 93 percent from historic numbers.
The species is highlighted on the 2014 Watch List of birds of greatest conservation concern.
ABC and partners have been working in support of a science-based regional planning initiative for Greater Sage-Grouse since 2009. We believe this approach, announced in 2011, offers the best path forward to stabilize grouse populations and to leave a legacy of protected wide-open spaces across the West.
We also support the Sage Grouse Initiative coordinated by the National Resource Conservation Service, which is providing incentives for conservation easements on private lands and for better management practices.
Scientific studies conclude that conserving Greater Sage-Grouse will require both protecting large areas of habitat and making significant changes in land management. We worked with partners to send a letter to incoming Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell.
Listing the Greater Sage-Grouse under the ESA is an important fallback option should the federal land management plans and voluntary efforts currently underway fail to stop the species’ population declines. Unfortunately, some in Congress are trying to prevent completion of the new grouse conservation plans or ESA listing for the species. This would only further imperil the species by preventing its conservation.