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Conservationists slam rollback of sage-grouse plan

Greater Sage-Grouse. Photo by Tom Reichner/Shutterstock

On August 2, the Trump administration finalized its plan for managing the Greater Sage-Grouse, along with hundreds of other species, on 5.2 million acres of western lands. The move unravels an existing conservation plan to preserve fragile habitat for the iconic bird. That plan, issued in 2015, was painstakingly crafted over several years with input from a bipartisan group of elected leaders, landowners, hunters, and conservationists. The new plan is part of an approach that elevates short-term development interests above all others.

In the new plan, the U.S. Forest Service removes protections in priority sage-grouse habitat, allows for waivers and exceptions for development interests, and, by weakening provisions in specific states, threatens sage-grouse conservation overall in the West.

Conservation leaders have denounced the changes. Here are perspectives from six groups.

Bobby McEnaney, director of the Dirty Energy Project for the Natural Resources Defense Council:

“From our wildlands to our precious habitat and threatened iconic species, nature is bearing the brunt of the Trump administration’s reckless governance. This move by the Forest Service unravels carefully crafted safeguards to promote extractive industries’ interests. It runs roughshod over sensible policy, science, and the natural resources we all, collectively, own.”

Brian Rutledge, director of Audubon’s Sagebrush Ecosystem Initiative:


“What earned its place as the most hopeful conservation success story in American history has suffered yet another grave setback that threatens not only the Greater Sage-Grouse but also the entire sagebrush ecosystem.

“Driven by short-term development interests, Washington insiders have discarded a science-driven approach to managing public lands. These are special places all parties agree are most important to protect. The Trump administration decided to put years of hard work, compromise, and hope for a healthy sagebrush country at risk.

“The Forest Service’s proposed plan amendments are another step on this misguided path. While they show that common-sense tools like compensatory mitigation can and should be maintained, they still remove important protections and will not stop the onslaught of leasing and drilling that continues to threaten the survival of the sage-grouse, as shown in our recent report. Audubon has been part of this process from the very beginning, and we intend to double down with our partners to build a sustainable future for this landscape and the birds and people who depend on it.  The Department of the Interior has not heard the last of us yet.”

Tracy Stone-Manning, associate vice president for public lands at the National Wildlife Federation:


“Over and over, Westerners have spoken up to protect habit for sage grouse and the 350 other species that rely on it.  And over and over, this administration has ignored those voices. Our country should be protecting wildlife habitat, not attacking it.”

Robert Gaudet, president of the Nevada Wildlife Federation:

“Dismantling the collaborative agreement that was created by sportsmen, landowners, and a bipartisan group of elected officials in the West means that this administration clearly gives more weight to oil and gas interests than to the people of Nevada. These weakened plans threaten not only an iconic western bird, but the habitat that supports 350 other species.”

Brian Brooks, executive director of the Idaho Wildlife Federation:


“Idaho’s sage-grouse populations are down 52% since their peak in 2016. There has been a 25% reduction in males at leks since 2018 surveys – in just one year. This is not a time to be reducing conservation measures as these plans do.”

Kim Stevens, campaign manager of The Wilderness Society:

“The Bureau of Land Management and now the Forest Service have ignored the hundreds of thousands of stakeholders across the West who repeatedly spoke out against efforts like this to weaken protections for sage-grouse and its habitat.

“The sage-grouse and an entire ecosystem now depend on western governors to take the lead and pick up where this administration has completely failed.”


Read our review of the book Sage Grouse: Icon of the West

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