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Conservation groups call for more protections for sage-grouse

sage-grouse
Male Greater Sage-Grouse fight on a snowy lek in southern Wyoming. Photo by Cameron Carver

Last week, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced it is reopening a process to withdraw certain Greater Sage-Grouse habitats known as Sagebrush Focal Areas (SFAs) from damaging mining. The proposal would reinstate a process that was started under the 2015 Obama-era sage-grouse plan amendments, and which was halted abruptly by the Trump administration in 2017. A lawsuit by conservation groups overturned the Trump-era cancellation, and the courts sent the BLM back to reconsider whether the withdrawal was necessary for sage-grouse conservation.

“The withdrawal is necessary so that sage-grouse can survive for future generations to enjoy, but the protected areas need to be larger to reflect the increasing threats to this magnificent bird,” said Kelly Fuller, Energy and Mining Campaign Director of Western Watersheds Project. “Scientists have recommended protecting all priority sage-grouse habitats from all types of mineral extraction disturbance, not just the subset of those areas as proposed in today’s announcement.”

Mining threatens sage-grouse by fragmenting and destroying the birds’ habitat, by disturbing soils and by facilitating invasive plants and the spread of fire-prone weeds, by draining ground- and surface water, as well as by disturbing sage-grouse via human activity, including noise. Oil and gas drilling has similar effects, adding much more widespread habitat fragmentation that destroys the ability of sagebrush habitats to sustain sage-grouse populations. The birds have strong site fidelity, returning to the same breeding, nesting, and brood-rearing habitats year after year — even returning to disturbed areas where they can no longer successfully reproduce or survive.

“This is a good first step toward protecting Greater Sage-Grouse, but much more is needed to ensure their survival as a species,” said Michael Saul, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The interlocking challenges of climate change, fire, and habitat loss require the Biden administration to take bold action, or sage-grouse will continue on their current path to extinction. These beautiful birds and their ecosystem won’t recover unless the Interior secretary bans mining and drilling in their priority habitat.”

Recent scientific reports by the U.S. Geological Survey point to continuing population declines for sage-grouse, with a likelihood for extirpation of local populations, driven by multiple factors degrading sagebrush habitats.

“Protecting large, unfragmented tracts of key sage-grouse habitat, not just from mining but from oil and gas drilling and other industrial uses as well, could make sage-grouse conservation a cornerstone of the Biden administration’s America the Beautiful initiative to protect 30 percent of America’s land area for biodiversity conservation by 2030,” added Steve Holmer, Vice President of Policy for American Bird Conservancy.

Thanks to American Bird Conservancy for providing this news.

Greater Sage-Grouse population down 80% since 1965

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American Bird Conservancy

American Bird Conservancy

American Bird Conservancy is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization whose mission is to conserve native birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. It contributes the “Eye on Conservation” column in each issue of BirdWatching.

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