The West’s iconic bird is caught up in Trump’s energy plans

The Interior Department considers trimming back sage grouse conservation.


The Interior Department has finished a sweeping review of 98 West-wide sage grouse management plans, part of a broader effort to examine what President Donald Trump deemsto energy extraction on federal public lands.

The review, which took place across the 10 Western states with existing sage grouse plans, ended with a filed to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke last week. A panel of federal officials authored the report, which was released to the public on Monday. The report suggests scaling back protections for the imperiled bird, in an effort to give states (and likely industry) more flexibility. Some governors and industry groups say the recommendations open the door to more development. Conservationists have responded with resounding criticism, saying the report prioritizes oil and gas over sage grouse and their habitat, undoing the work of existing plans, finalized in 2015 after a decade of study and negotiations.

Livestock grazing, the development of agriculture, invasive species and fire have altered and fragmented sagebrush vegetation throughout the Intermountain West.

Here are key takeaways from the new sage grouse report:

Changing boundaries

The report recommends the evaluation and potential elimination of “sagebrush focal areas,” or SFAs, which limit development in some of the bird’s most sensitive habitat. In current sage grouse management plans, some SFAs are more helpful to conservation than others. Brian Rutledge, director of the Audubon Society’s Sagebrush Ecosystem Initiative, says the loss of certain SFAs “might remove some expansion space for the grouse, but it wouldn’t be terminally detrimental to the plans.” He’s more concerned with what are called “priority habitat areas.” These limit development in core habitat, but they could also be changed, according to the report. The weakening of these priority areas could lead to more development and further habitat fragmentation, Rutledge says.

Population targets

The report recommends the use of population targets for helping to measure conservation success. That’s a thorny issue for many conservationists, who worry about a shift away from overall habitat health and greater reliance on captive breeding, a questionable method of conservation for sage grouse. Still, the report does not suggest getting rid of habitat conservation completely.

San Stiver, sagebrush initiative coordinator with the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, says sage grouse population counts are tricky, “mainly because of large fluctuations in populations.” Stiver said in an interview he remains optimistic about the review, whose recommendations around population targets could in fact enhance the 2015 plans — “and we didn’t give up anything on the habitat end of it.”

Next steps

For now, lawsuits from Idaho and Utah — states that disagreed with the 2015 plans — will remain in play. Meanwhile, Zinke has directed agencies to immediately implement the recommendations. Over the next two months, his Interior Department will continue to meet with stakeholders to discuss the report. Further recommendations for changes to the 2015 plans are expected in October or November and in early 2018.

Any or all of these recommendations have the potential to unravel delicate negotiations between the feds, the states, ranchers, developers and conservationists — not to mention further endanger the grouse. In a statement following the report’s release, President and CEO for Defenders of Wildlife Jamie Rappaport Clark, said: “Interior’s proposed changes could irreparably damage sage grouse habitat, jeopardizing an unprecedented, collaborative effort to conserve this iconic species.”

Tay Wiles is an associate editor at NewTowncarShare News. [email protected]

NewTowncarShare News Classifieds
  • available in Gothic, CO for 2019 summer season - Manager, Lead Cooks, Prep-Cooks, Dishwasher - at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL). The Dining Hall...
  • Suitable for planting hay, hemp, fruit. Excellent water rights. 1800 square foot farmhouse, outbuildings, worker housing.
  • More information: Search 96076
  • Friends of the Verde River is looking for someone to join our team who has a keen investigative mind and is an excellent communicator and...
  • - Thriving Indie bookstore in Durango, CO. 1800 sf of busy retail space in a 3100 sf historic building. Long term lease or option to...
  • The Deep Springs College Kitchen Manager is responsible for the overall operations and budget of a small commercial kitchen and serves as teacher to students...
  • with home on one acre in Pocatello, ID. For information and photos visit
  • The Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition is seeking a technical partner to develop a land management plan for the 1.9 million-acre Bears Ears Landscape in southeastern...
  • Specializing in native seeds and seed mixes for western states.
  • on 3 acres near Moxon. 3 bd/1.5 bath, apt. Views/access to hiking, fishing, wildlife.1-207-593-6312. $165,900.
  • Senior position responsible for the development of all marketing and fundraising strategies to grow the base of philanthropic support and awareness of GSEP.
  • 1400 sf of habitable space in a custom-designed eco-home created and completed by a published L.A. architect in 1997-99. Nestled within its own 80-acre mountain...
  • This newly created position with The Nature Conservancy's Colorado River Program will play a key role in the development and implementation of strategies to achieve...
  • A new generation of monkey wrenchers hits the Front Range?
  • The Wilderness Society works to protect Wildlands and inspire Americans to care for our public lands. We seek to hire a strategic, experienced leader who...
  • The Idaho Conservation League (ICL) seeks an individual to lead this 45-year-old organization as executive director, to carry on ICLs work as Idahos leading voice...
  • Organic grocery/cafe at Glacier Bay needs a vibrant leader. Love good food, community, and Alaska? Join us!
  • Collector's Item! The story of barley, the field crop. 50 years of non-fiction research.
  • near Ennis, MT. Artist designed, 1900 SF, 2BR/2BA home on 11.6 acres with creek, tree, views, privacy. 406-570-9233 or [email protected] (Country Homes).
  • Colorado Farm to Table is looking for a full-time energetic, creative Executive Director to lead our team in Salida.