Comment period ending for sage grouse review

An Interior Department overhaul of collaborative protection plans could sacrifice birds for development.

 

The public has until Friday, Dec. 1, to comment on the Interior Department’s controversial efforts to redo sage grouse protection plans announced in 2015.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke ordered a review of the federal management plans in June, in what he called an effort to balance habitat conservation with “job creation and local economic growth,” including from extractive industries like oil and gas development.

A greater sage-grouse male struts for females near Bridgeport, California.
Jeannie Stafford / USFWS

The 2015 sage grouse protections — 98 federal land management plans that span 70 million acres across 10 states — were the culmination of a decade of unprecedented collaboration among ranchers, environmentalists and federal and state governments. Because of those plans and other conservation measures, the federal government in 2015 decided that the greater sage grouse did not need to be added to the list of threatened and endangered species.

That gave ranchers, land managers and other parties certainty about where they could develop the landscape without compromising critical sage grouse habitat or running afoul of the Endangered Species Act. The decision was a clear sign that those plans, which allow for some grazing and oil and gas drilling, have been working. “The bottom line is that the sage grouse, at least in Montana, are in a much better position going forward … than they were 6 to 8 years ago,” Dan Vermillion, the chairman of Montana’s Fish and Wildlife Commission, said in a press call Thursday.

But Zinke’s order puts the plans’ hard-won equilibrium between multiple uses at risk. “Some of the recommended changes could destroy that balance by making drilling and mining a priority at the expense of the sage grouse,” Collin O’Mara, the president of the National Wildlife Federation, said in the call. Scientists worry that shifting management focus toward population counts and captive breeding and away from habitat conservation, as Zinke has proposed, won’t be enough to save the species. Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, a Republican, and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, cited concerns about that shift when they asked Zinke in May not to make “wholesale changes.”

A greater sage grouse hen and her brood in the wetlands of Wyoming's Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge.
Tom Koerner / USFWS

“The absolute nightmare scenario is that the populations decrease significantly because we haven’t kept more of the habitat,” O’Mara said Thursday. That could result in exactly what the plans were meant to forestall: endangered species protections for the greater sage grouse, which would impose much more onerous regulatory requirements than those stipulated under the 2015 plans.

Management directives from the Interior Department could come as soon as mid-December, O’Mara said. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., said Thursday the sage grouse plans should move forward as they are. “(They) worked for the sagebrush ecosystem and still provided flexibility for states and Western communities,” he said in a press call. “As the public comment period comes to an end tomorrow, I think it’s critical that we raise our voices to let Secretary Zinke know that he should not undermine the (federal) land management plans.”

The public can make those comments here.

Emily Benson is an editorial fellow at High Country News. 

High Country News Classifieds
  • PHILANTHROPY COORDINATOR
    Wyoming Wildlife Federation - collaborates with the Executive Director and staff to ensure the effective implementation of all philanthropic activities. https://wyomingwildlife.org/hiring-philanthropy-coordinator/.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    HawkWatch International is hiring an Executive Director to lead the organization. The next leader of this growing organization must have: 1. Enthusiasm for conservation, birds...
  • EVERLAND MOUNTAIN RETREAT
    Everland Mountain Retreat includes 318 mountaintop acres with a 3,200 square foot lodge and two smaller homes. Endless vistas of the Appalachian mountains, open skies,...
  • PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Home Resource is a non-profit community sustainability center. We work with, in, and for the community to reduce waste and build a more vibrant and...
  • COUNTRY ESTATE NEAR KINGS CANYON AND SEQUOIA PARKS
    Spectacular views of snowcapped Sierras. 15 miles from Kings Canyon/Sequoia Parks. 47 acres with 2 homes/75' pool/gym/patios/gardens. 1670 sq.ft. main home has 3 bdrm/1 bath....
  • BRN DEVELOPMENT & COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR
    Borderlands Restoration Network 501c3 is hiring a full-time Development Director. Description and job details can be found at https://www.borderlandsrestoration.org/job-opportunities.html
  • GILA NATIONAL FOREST NEW MEXICO
    Beautiful off-the-grid passive solar near the CDT. 9.4 acres, north of Silver City. Sam, 575.388.1921
  • ENVIRONMENTAL PLANNING MANAGER
    The City of Fort Collins is seeking an Environmental Planning Manager in the Natural Areas Department. The Department has an annual budget of approximately $13...
  • WEB DESIGN AND CONTENT MANAGER
    We are seeking an experienced designer to be the team lead for web development and digital media. Part creator and part planner, this person should...
  • CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER
    at RCAC. See the full description at https://bit.ly/2WJ3HvY Apply at [email protected]
  • GRASSROOTS ORGANIZER
    The Utah Rivers Council is looking for an energetic individual with strong communication and organizing skills. The Grassroots Organizer works to ensure our campaigns are...
  • JOHN DEERE SNOW BLOWER 24"
    Newly refurbished and tuned. Older model, great condition. Gasoline engine. Chains on tires. Heavy duty for mountain snow. Call cellphone and leave message or email.
  • CARPENTER RANCH MANAGER
    Hiring a part-time ranch manager to live on The Nature Conservancy's Carpenter Ranch property in Hayden, CO. Responsibilities include: facility maintenance of historic ranch house,...
  • STRAW BALE, ADOBE, TIMBER FRAME, HEALTHY HOME, NEAR LA VETA PASS, CO
    unique custom home in Sangre de Cristo Mountains of CO near La Veta Pass, 3 bed, 2 1/2 bath, private gated park, two hours from...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, KANIKSU LAND TRUST
    Kaniksu Land Trust, a community-supported non-profit land trust serving north Idaho and northwest Montana, is in search of a new executive director. The ideal candidate...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Flathead Lakers are seeking a dynamic, self-motivated and proven leader to be our next Executive Director (ED).
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Blackfoot Challenge, a renowned collaborative conservation org in MT, seeks our next ED.
  • COPPER CANYON MEXICO CAMPING & BACKPACKING
    10-day tour from Los Mochis airport, 2/nyts El Fuerte, train, 2/nyts canyon rim hotel, 5/nyts camping. 520-324-0209, www.coppercanyontrails.org.
  • STAFF ATTORNEY, ALASKA
    Earthjustice is hiring for a Staff Attorney
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    to lead an organization that funds projects in National Parks. Major gift fundraising and public lands experience critical. PD and app details @ peopleinparks.org.