A new report by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and other peer-reviewed research published this spring indicate that conserving Greater Sage-Grouse will require protecting large areas of habitat and making significant changes in land management to reverse population declines of the wide-ranging species. Federal agencies are currently engaged in an unprecedented planning process throughout the West to conserve and restore the species.
“We appreciate the Obama Administration taking on this unprecedented conservation initiative and the tremendous opportunity it offers to create a lasting legacy of protected western landscapes and sustainable management,” said Matthew Kirby of Sierra Club. “The best available science indicates that without the creation of protected areas, grouse populations will continue to decline.”
The new USGS study, which was commissioned by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management, indicated that preserving large, relatively undisturbed expanses of sagebrush habitat will be important to sage-grouse conservation. The same USGS study assessed threats to priority conservation areas and found that a significant percentage of the areas have already been degraded and that most of the areas are already affected by multiple stressors that will continue to impact the birds.
“It remains to be seen how federal planners ensure that large expanses of intact sagebrush habitat will be protected to secure and recover sage-grouse populations, as the USGS report would advise,” said Steve Holmer of American Bird Conservancy. “We are concerned that the first draft plans released as part of the planning process will be inadequate to prevent further declines in sage-grouse populations.”
A study led by Holly Copeland of the Nature Conservancy assessing the Wyoming “core area” conservation strategy, which some BLM plans have also adopted, predicted that conservation measures it recommends will reduce the sage-grouse’s population decline, but will not stabilize grouse numbers or provide for the species’ recovery. Another paper by scientists from the USGS and the Center for Conservation Biology at the University of California found that sage-grouse appear to need greater protection than provided by the Wyoming core area strategy.
“Sage-grouse are a landscape species, and they need large, protected landscapes to survive,” said Mark Salvo of Defenders of Wildlife. “The federal planning effort is off to a shaky start, but incorporating findings from this new research will help steer the process back on course.”
Recent headlines about Greater Sage-Grouse
The Missoulian, July 20: North Dakota working to import sage-grouse from Montana
Reno Gazette-Journal, July 14: Sage-grouse habitat could be helped by Douglas fire