FWS: Sage grouse not warranted for ESA listingWritten by Saige Albert
Commerce City, Colo. – On Sept. 22, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell opened a press conference at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center, saying, “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the premier wildlife agency in the world, has concluded the Greater sage grouse does not need protection under the Endangered Species Act.”
Joining Jewell at the ceremony, FWS Director Dan Ashe, USDA Undersecretary Robert Bonnie, Gov. John Hickenlooper, Gov. Matt Mead, Gov. Steve Bullock, Gov. Brian Sandoval, Audubon Rockies Executive Director Brian Rutledge and Nevada rancher Duane Coombs all praised the cooperative efforts of federal, state and local governments, landowners and more toward staving off the listing decision.
“This decision means a brighter future for one bird that calls the West home, and it means certainty for states, communities, ranchers and developers,” Jewell added. “This is the largest, most complex land conservation effort ever in the history of the U.S.”
Ashe added, “Today is a good day to be a sage grouse, a rancher, a governor and a federal or state agency employee. We have won. Through great leadership and great partnerships we can come together and cooperate for the best interests of the West and the nation.”
Since sage grouse became a focus of conservation work West-wide, Jewell noted that numerous efforts have taken place on the landscape across roughly 170 million acres.
“Forty-five percent of sagebrush landscape is on state and private lands,” she added, noting that she visited with governors across the West to see efforts on the ground.
“The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) led the Sage Grouse Initiative,” Jewell continued, “and they worked alongside Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and FWS, who put together Candidate Conservation Agreements, which have made a huge difference on public and private lands to put conservation measures in place on millions of acres.”
The Sage Grouse Initiative, said Bonnie, has involved more than 1,100 ranchers across 4.4 million acres, with an additional commitment of $200 million over the next eight years.
“I want to give a nod to ranchers who have proven to be true conservationists,” Jewell mentioned. “Thousands of ranching families have taken steps to make their lands better for sage grouse and cattle.”
She further emphasized that land use plans released by the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service on Sept. 22 help to continue those efforts.
Land use plans
“Over the past three years, the agencies have worked with states, stakeholders and scientists to update 98 land use plans,” Jewell said. “We also released the plan that outlines a path forward for sustainable economic development. It puts targeted protection on 67 million acres, with the highest protection on about 12 million acres.”
She noted that the plans differ to reflect local landscapes, threats and conservation approaches with the overall goal to minimize and prevent disturbances all while improving and restoring habitats.
“One number demonstrates how effective and balanced those plans are – 90 percent,” she commented. “Ninety percent of lands with high and medium oil and gas potential are outside primary habitat areas, and models estimate the plans significantly reduce threats to Greater sage grouse across 90 percent of the species and their habitat.”
Ashe mentioned, “Many minds, hands and hearts have helped to get us here today, but the leadership we saw from Wyoming in 2008 showed us what was possible for sage grouse conservation.”
Mead said, during the ceremony, “As we think about the Endangered Species Act of 1973, there is nothing in the Act to say that the goal is to list species. The goal is to make sure we take care of our species and our habitat so we don’t have to list species.”
Mead noted that the diverse interests of groups across the West have come together for over a decade to conserve sage grouse, all while balancing western economic strength and balancing habitat.
Wyoming Farm Bureau’s Executive Director Ken Hamilton said, “We are naturally pleased with the FWS decision to not list the sage grouse as it is a species that should have never been proposed for listing. Listing a species causes a lot of problems and doesn’t necessarily benefit the species. We have always said those working the land know better how to manage the land and all of its features than those thousands of miles away.”
Other industry input
With partners across the West, a wide array of positive commentary poured forward on the decision, though there is some concern about the decision and the BLM and Forest Service land use plans.
“The Administration came to the logical decision not to list the sage grouse, but went ahead and forced through their land use plans, which are just as concerning as a listing,” said Brenda Richards, Public Lands Council president. “Instead of recognizing the stewardship that land users have voluntarily put in place, they are pushing forward their agenda which ignores multiple use on our lands.”
“We are pleased with FWS and the Interior’s listing decision and their commitment to sound conservation practices based on locally-led initiatives, voluntary participation and funding assistance for local landowners and operators,” said National Association of Conservation Districts President Lee McDaniel.
A look forward
Despite the far-reaching and positive impacts of the decision not to list sage grouse, Jewell noted, “There is a lot of work ahead.”
“In many ways, this is the end of the beginning,” she continued. “In the weeks, months and years ahead, we need to implement the state and federal plans and the fire strategy that made this decision possible. “
Jewell noted that all stakeholders must remain committed to incorporating science in making decisions about species in the future and to maintaining the sagebrush steppe ecosystem.
“There are too many partners and individuals to recognize because of the scope, scale and complexity,” Jewell said. “To say it takes a village is a gross understatement. We are witnessing a glimpse into the future of the West.”
More information on the BLM and Forest Service land use plans and what they mean for public lands ranchers will be available in the Oct. 3 Roundup.