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11/13/2012

Managing for Sage Grouse

Sage grouse_USFWSPhoto courtesy USFWS 

Last week the Bureau of Land Management excluded lands critical to the future health of the Greater Sage Grouse, a declining western bird species, from a proposal to offer roughly 807,000 acres of land in Wyoming, Utah and Colorado for oil shale and tar sands leasing. The American Petroleum Institute, which is sworn to open every inch of America to drilling, criticized BLM in a statement that repeated the tired ‘oil at any cost’ messaging the organization spent millions promoting in the 2012 election. Extreme oil sources, like tar sands and oil shale, must be mined from the Earth, permanently destroying wildlife habitat; they pollute waterways and groundwater, and they release carbon pollution all on a massive scale. BLM and the Obama Administration do well to resist API and the oil industry’s pressure to ignore science and the law and throw open our parks and natural areas to unlimited oil and gas destruction.

The Greater Sage Grouse is a valuable game bird that lives on the rolling sagebrush of the west. Sage grouse populations have been in decline for decades and the bird is now a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act. The health of sage grouse populations is an indicator of the broader health of the region which affects ranchers, renewable energy producers and other sectors important to the American economy. To improve the health of sage grouse populations the BLM has embarked on a west-wide effort, the National Sage Grouse Planning Strategy, to manage its lands in ways that benefit the grouse.  BLM sees the decision to exclude important sage grouse habitat from this leasing proposal as an important step to keep both conservation and development options open for the long-term. But the fact that this plan makes a huge concession to the oil industry is lost on API. 

Expanded oil shale and tar sands leasing on public lands is also a huge climate threat, a fact that shouldn’t be lost on anyone who’s suffered through the national drought in the region (or Superstorm Sandy for that matter.) 

The fact that BLM is proposing these leases at all is deeply disappointing. However, the agency’s placing areas of important sage grouse habitat off limits to oil leasing is a sign of progress and concern for both wildlife and America’s economic health. As the agency moves to finalize the planning strategy we hope to see these and other critical areas for sage grouse better managed. No source of oil is ever worth wiping out habitat and driving animals to the brink of extinction. There are better ways to meet our energy needs.

 - by Tim Wagner, Sierra Club Representative in Utah

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