TODAY’S STUDY: THE LITTLE BIRD THAT MEANS SO MUCH TO NEW ENERGY
Sage-Grouse Inventory; 2014 Conservation Initiatives April 3, 2015 (Western Governors Association)
The greater sage-grouse is found in 11 western states: California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. The bird was listed as “warranted but precluded” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 2010 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).
Western Governors are committed to conservation of greater sage-grouse and assert that the breadth and depth of voluntary conservation efforts across the region, if allowed to run their course, will provide the bird with the necessary habitat to live and thrive. The Governors believe that a listing of the greater sage-grouse by FWS later this year will diminish the amount of new voluntary conservation work undertaken and have a significant, negative economic impact across the West.
The Western Governors’ Association 2014 Sage-Grouse Inventory makes the case that the success of voluntary conservation initiatives for sage-grouse provides compelling evidence that a listing of the bird as threatened or endangered under ESA is counterproductive and unnecessary.
While not intended to be exhaustive, the 2014 inventory has expanded its focus from previous years. In addition to recording state and local government conservation initiatives, it also includes reports from federal agencies, conservation districts, tribes, industry and nonprofits.
Some of the highlights from this year’s inventory include:
• Colorado, Nevada, North Dakota and South Dakota either completed or updated state plans for sage-grouse conservation during 2014.
• Montana Gov. Steve Bullock issued an Executive Order in 2014 establishing a statewide greater sagegrouse habitat conservation program and requiring state agency compliance.
• The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is updating Resource Management Plans (68 in the greater sage-grouse range) covering approximately 65 million acres.
• The U.S. Forest Service is amending 21 forest plans, working closely with BLM and other stakeholders, with interim conservation recommendations already in place.
• Nevada Mining Association members have developed Habitat Conservation Plans on 1.2 million acres.
• Colorado, Idaho and Montana have collectively protected nearly 350,000 acres of greater sage-grouse habitat through purchase or conservation easements.
• The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has put more than 450,000 acres of Western land into easements in the past five years, bringing its investment to $165 million. (Partner matches bring that total to $250 million).
• Idaho wildlife and land agencies have spent $4 million improving and restoring habitat.
• Utah has completed nearly 85% of a 560,000-acre project to ameliorate conifer encroachment in sagegrouse management areas.
• Private landowners working with NRCS have reclaimed over 400,000 acres of sage-grouse habitat through conifer removal.
• Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation has funded more than 90 projects that treat sagebrush habitat over 83,000 acres in eight western states.
• NRCS has invested almost $300 million in sagegrouse conservation efforts, matched by over $125 million from partners and landowners, for a total of nearly $425 million to conserve more than 4 million acres.
• Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (over $5.1 million for FY 15-17) and Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter ($750,000 for FY 15) are directing significant funding at conservation.
• The Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, BLM and Fish and Wildlife Service signed an Oregon BLM Public Lands Sage-Grouse Programmatic Candidate Conservation Agreement that has registered at least 1 million acres of participation.
• Solitario Exploration and Royalty Corp., Ely Gold Corp., Noble Energy and Wyo-Ben are among many companies voluntarily restricting operations in ways that promote conservation.
• Wyoming’s legislature awarded approximately $2 million for additional research work on greater sage-grouse
Addressing Threats to Sage-Grouse
PART I: Conservation Efforts Completed To Date
The decline in greater sage-grouse population numbers from historic levels is thought to be tied to a variety of factors, including development, drought, wildfires, invasive species and predators. A Conservation Objectives Team (COT) comprised of state and federal representatives identified threats that need to be reduced to conserve greater sagegrouse and preclude the need for a listing. These threats are outlined in “Greater Sagegrouse Conservation Objectives: Final Report,” also known as the COT Report, which was released in October 2013. This WGA report highlights examples of voluntary conservation initiatives that have been implemented and how they address the threats identified in the COT report. The full responses from federal agencies to Western Governors’ questions about sage-grouse conservation are available on the WGA website…
About Greater Sage-Grouse
The greater sage-grouse is a bird found on sagebrush lands in 11 western states (California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming) and two Canadian provinces, its range stretching across 257,000 square miles. Greater sage-grouse rely on sagebrush for both food and shelter. During the spring breeding season, male sage-grouse gather to perform courtship displays in areas called leks. Population estimates suggest that greater sage-grouse numbers have dropped by one-third in the past 30 years. Factors that threaten greater sage-grouse vitality are described in greater detail later in this report. In 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) listed the greater sage-grouse as “warranted but precluded” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), meaning that the species should be listed based on the best available science but that listing other species takes priority because they are more in need of protection. In 2011, the FWS reached settlement agreements with WildEarth Guardians and the Center for Biological Diversity requiring the agency to review all species listed on its 2010 Candidate Notice of Review, including the greater sage-grouse. Under the settlement agreement, FWS has until Sept. 30, 2015, to reach a “warranted” or “not warranted” decision for the greater sage-grouse.
Beyond the agency’s consideration of whether to list the greater sage-grouse in the 11 states where it is found, there are populations of greater sage-grouse that FWS is evaluating separately for listing under the ESA. The bi-state population of greater sage-grouse found in Nevada and California has been proposed threatened. The Columbia Basin population of greater sage-grouse located in Washington state is a candidate for listing. Another grouse species, the Gunnison sage-grouse, was listed as “threatened” by FWS in November 2014.
This inventory primarily addresses greater sage-grouse conservation activities, but a section is included on Gunnison sage-grouse conservation as well…
Easements, Leases and Regulations…Agreements and policy mechanisms for protecting birds and their habitat..Personnel and Oversight Groups…Greater sage-grouse conservation requires dedicated staff and volunteers...Habitat Improvements…Efforts to address juniper and non-native invasive grasses that reduce habitat quality...Modified Operations…Adjusting operational practices to reduce impacts from industry, ranching and other land uses...Research & Education…A wealth of research is ongoing to improve the state of the science for conservation...Management Tools/Projects…Innovative methods are being used for improved management, including fence-marking and removal....Rangeland Fire Management…Reducing the threat of fire in sagebrush ecosystems to prevent habitat destruction that can take decades to recover…
Planned Conservation Efforts, 2015 and Beyond
Not only have the diverse entities featured in this inventory made substantial contributions to greater sage-grouse conservation thus far, but more is planned for 2015 and beyond. In addition to the continued implementation of conservation plans, the following provides an overview of what is yet to come…