BHA: New plan erodes habitat protections for greater sage grouse

MISSOULA, Mont. – New sage grouse management plans unveiled by the Bureau of Land Management could unravel years of stakeholder collaboration and reduce habitat conservation measures for sagebrush country that have played a major role in keeping the greater sage grouse off the Endangered Species List, according to a news release from Backcountry Hunters & Anglers.

The BLM plans would loosen development safeguards for the sage steppe that were put in place in 2015 with a management strategy developed by one of the most successful landscape-level conservation collaborations in history, according to BHA. It says it has been a strong proponent of this approach, which brought together sportsmen and women with other conservationists, ranchers, farmers, and representatives of federal and state governments to forge plans that are tailored to local needs. Those plans have been foundational to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to date not to list the sage grouse as endangered, BHA said.

The administration’s revised management approach could facilitate new industrial development in 11 Western states, easing no-surface occupancy (NSO) protections in particularly valuable areas of sage-steppe habitat by allowing new exemptions or waivers. Additionally, “sagebrush focal areas” across designated priority habitat would be eliminated under the BLM plans, thereby allowing mineral development that was previously withdrawn under the 2015 collaborative plans.

BHA Conservation Director John Gale called the new BLM plans a missed opportunity.

“The administration had a tremendous opportunity to build on the strength of the 2015 plans while making some adjustments in course that would have improved consistency and partnership with states,” Gale said. “Instead, they chose to eliminate protections for sagebrush country, an action that threatens not only the health of sage grouse populations but also generates additional uncertainty for more than 350 other species that rely on these landscapes, including mule deer, elk and pronghorn.

“In 2015, one of the most successful collaborative management approaches in U.S. history was released to widespread approbation,” Gale added. “With the erosion of those plans mid-implementation, the administration has made it incredibly difficult to create a resilient public lands management model – one that balances the pressures of development and recreational uses and addresses cumulative impacts of variables like drought, wildfire and invasive species. We urge them to reconsider this approach and heed the will of the American people by responsibly managing these iconic and valuable public lands.”

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