This past week, Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell announced that with a combined effort between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), western landowners, and state governments, a new landscape-scale conservation effort to protect the “Sagebrush Sea” will be enacted. This new project will reduce threats to the greater sage-grouse by 90%.
This new effort means that the greater sage-grouse will not be listed as an endangered species. The decision was made after the FWS evaluated the population status of the rangeland bird and determined that they still remain abundant in the region (165 million acres). Although the population has been decreasing, the FWS determined that this species of grouse does not face immediate or foreseeable extinction due to the relatively large population of the bird.
The announcement made Monday is a response to the effort Colorado and many other western state have assumed to protect the bird. Local governments and landowners around the West have collaboratively undertaken numerous mitigation techniques to help maintain the population of the greater sage-grouse. As a result of their efforts, the bird will not be listed.
Secretary Sally Jewell stated, “The decision reflects the joint efforts by countless ranchers and partners who have worked so hard to conserve wildlife habitat and preserve the western way of life. Together, we have shown that voluntary efforts joining the resources of private landowners, federal and state agencies, and partner organizations, can help drive landscape-level conservation that is good for sage-grouse, ranching operations, and rural communities. Through the comprehensive initiatives on both public and private lands, the partnership has made and will continue to make monumental strides in supporting the people and wildlife that depend on the sagebrush landscape.”
Moving forward, state governments will work with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and US Forest Service (USFS) to help enact 98 land use plans that focus on conserving greater sage-grouse habitat including:
- a proposal to withdraw a couple of parcels of land considered to be sage-grouse stronghold from any future mining projects,
- a plan where more than 1,100 ranchers have restored/conserved approximately 4.4 million acres of key sage-grouse habitat,
- the FWS and BLM have a commitment to 5.5 acres of federal land,
- and the U.S. Depart of Agriculture (USDA) expects voluntary private land conservation efforts to reach 8 million acres.
Many of these projects will improve grazing and water supplies for ranchers as well.
This decision to not list the greater sage-grouse is an example of how proactive conservation efforts can be successful by a joint and voluntary effort of private landowners, local governments, and federal organizations.