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02/21/2013

Protecting the Sage Grouse, Protecting Our Land

Greater_Sage_Grouse

Across the West, officials from state, federal and local agencies, conservation and sportsmen organizations, and private landowners collaborating to protect an unlikely icon: the sage grouse. Though its small in stature, the future of the sage grouse will have a huge impact on our ability to protect some of our most beautiful landscapes across 11 Western states.  

Over the past century, the sagebrush habitat that the grouse depends on to live has been decimated, reduced by as much as half nationwide. And while half of their home has been wiped out, sage grouse have been disappearing at an even faster rate, with as much as 90% of their population disappearing over the same time period.  These startling declines have spurred questions about how to safeguard this special bird, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service even considering protecting the Sage Grouse by listing it under the Endangered Species Act. It’s a drastic move that the agency has until 2015 to decide on.  In the meantime, the threats to the sage grouse have sparked wildlife conservationists to embark on a new effort to restore and rejuvenate the Sage Grouse population so that they are no longer considered threatened and listing them under the Endangered Species Act is unnecessary.

The effort is partially focused on ensuring that initiatives by federal agencies like the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service Part are focused on stemming or reversing the loss of sagebrush habitat. By developing a National Sage Grouse Planning Strategy that improves the dozens and dozens of public land management plans across the West, the goal is to protect Sage Grouse homes to increase their population.  Of course, with so many plans and so many different communities, the federal agencies involved are considering a wide range of options. The Sierra Club is supporting a plan that will conserve the species, increasing their population to numbers that are viable, secure, and growing by restoring their habitat to its full potential.  

To accomplish these goals, our plan:  

  • Establishes a system of conservation areas, protecting specially designated areas that will serve as the foundation for restoring the highest quality sage grouse habitats
  • Close priority sage grouse habitats – including land within 4 miles of sage grouse mating areas - to oil and gas leasing
  • Reject surface coal mining on priority habitat for sage grouse

By applying these approaches, the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service will not just help to conserve the sage grouse, but help keep dirty fossil fuels in the ground and their carbon-disrupting emissions out of the atmosphere. That means we’ll take major steps in securing not just a future for the grouse, but for other western wildlife and for the people who depend on the same habitat to hunt and raise livestock, securing a future for generations to come. 

--Catherine Semcer, Sierra Club Lands Team

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