Here’s a pretty good write-up on the Interior Department’s revisions to the sage grouse conservation plan put into place a couple of years ago . . .
A task force is recommending changes that could loosen protections for the greater sage grouse, a Western bird species renowned for its elaborate mating dance.
The report comes out of a review by the Trump administration of a massive Obama-era conservation plan for the bird which is imperiled by loss of habitat.
The administration says the revisions are aimed at giving states more flexibility. But critics argue that the changes favor mining and petroleum companies and could hurt the bird’s long-term prospects.
This is the NPR version of this story, including a pretty neat sage grouse video . . .
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has announced that regulations protecting the sage grouse – rules which have been subject to years of negotiation and controversy in Western states – are once again under review.
This puts the Greater Sage Grouse Conservation plan, finalized in 2015, in a state of flux.
Zinke stressed that the Trump administration wants to see improvement in the bird’s conservation, but also wants to make sure that state agencies are “heard on this issue.” He said that possible modifications would take into account “local economic growth and job creation.”
It’s safe to say that the sage grouse, found only in North America, is a singular, strange bird that elicits strong feelings…
The greater sage grouse conservation plan is drawing fire from both sides . . .
Environmental groups sued Thursday to force the Obama administration to impose more restrictions on oil and gas drilling, grazing and other activities blamed for the decline of greater sage grouse across the American West.
A sweeping sage grouse conservation effort that the government announced last September is riddled with loopholes and will not be enough to protect the bird from extinction, according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Idaho.
It follows several legal challenges against the same rules from the opposite end of the political spectrum. Mining companies, ranchers and officials in Utah, Idaho and Nevada argue that the administration’s actions will impede economic development.
Montana gets ready to dish out funding for sage grouse habitat improvement . . .
A Montana panel overseeing a sage grouse conservation plan finalized guidelines on Friday for awarding $10 million in grants to help boost habitat for the imperiled bird.
Meanwhile, state officials have completed evaluating the bulk of 112 projects proposed within prime habitat for the sage grouse, as part of the ongoing implementation of an executive order issued by Gov. Steve Bullock in September.
“I am very happy to report that we are under way,” said Carolyn Sime, a resource program manager for the state’s Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.
Montana will relocate some local sage grouse to Alberta in an effort to improve the population in both jurisdictions . . .
Montana will send dozens of sage grouse to the Canadian province of Alberta in a plan approved Thursday that faces opposition from some lawmakers who say the state should first look to bolster its own fragile population of the bird.
The Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission voted 3-1 to relocate 40 greater sage grouse hens this year across the border to Alberta, where an estimated 100 to 120 of the birds are left. The sage grouse in Alberta and Montana make up a transboundary population, and the program should result in healthier numbers on both sides of the border, officials said.
“We have worked hard with Alberta to get this to fruition,” Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission Chairman Dan Vermillion said. “It seems to be working up there, and Montana has a lot to benefit.”
With endangered species protection off the table, greater sage grouse protection now relies on federal and state land-use planning . . .
Before the applause faded from the U.S. government’s announcement that there would be no endangered species protections for the greater sage grouse, the criticism began over wide-reaching federal conservation plans meant to protect the bird’s habitat across 11 Western states.
The land-use plans were released Tuesday after Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said additional federal protections weren’t needed for the ground-dwelling bird that’s seen its habitat shrink due to oil and gas drilling, grazing and other human activity.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management plans outline measures to help sage grouse across 67 million acres of public lands throughout the West, including 12 million acres of prime habitat where strict limits on oil and gas limits will be enforced.
The Interior Department decided not to give sage grouse Endangered Species Act protection . . .
The Interior Department said Tuesday that the greater sage grouse, a ground-dwelling bird whose vast range spans 11 Western states, does not need federal protections following a costly effort to reverse the species’ decline without reshaping the region’s economy.
The fight over whether to list the bird as endangered or threatened recalled the battle over the spotted owl 25 years ago, where federal protection greatly impeded the logging economy. The Obama administration and affected states have committed hundreds of millions of dollars to saving the species without Endangered Species Act protections that many argued would threaten the oil and gas industry and agriculture.
Tuesday’s announcement signaled that the Obama administration believes it has struck a delicate balance to save the birds from extinction without crippling the West’s economy. It also could help defuse a potential political liability for Democrats heading into the 2016 election; federal protections could have brought much more sweeping restrictions on oil and gas drilling, grazing and other human activities from California to the Dakotas.
Lots of folks on both sides of the issue are waiting with bated breath for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision on the status of the sage grouse . . .
A decision by the U.S. government on whether to propose protections for the greater sage grouse in 11 Western states could come next week, the chairman of a committee overseeing Montana’s conservation plan said Friday.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has until the end of the month to decide whether to propose designating the ground-dwelling bird as a threatened or endangered species. Congress has prohibited the agency from acting on that decision through at least September 2016.
The agency could decide that federal protections aren’t warranted, or that the measures are warranted but precluded by higher priorities.
Yet another factor to consider in sage grouse preservation efforts . . .
If increasingly destructive wildfires in the Great Basin can’t be stopped, the sage grouse population will be cut in half over the next three decades, scientists say.
A report released Thursday by the U.S. Geological Survey comes just ahead of a court-ordered Sept. 30 deadline faced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to decide whether sage grouse need protection under the Endangered Species Act. Experts say such a listing could damage Western states’ economies.
“The sagebrush steppe and sagebrush ecosystem are in trouble,” said Matt Brooks, a fire ecologist with the USGS and one of the report’s authors.