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
  • Seeking full-time experienced farmer on 52-acre organic farm Union, OR. [email protected]
  • Western Resource Advocates (WRA) is seeking a Government Affairs Manager that is passionate about Western communities and the protection of the natural environment to support...
  • Metal roofing & siding, thru-fastened & seam profiles. Stronger, more attractive and longer lasting than any other panel on the market. 970-275-4070.
  • The Central Colorado Conservancy, a nationally accredited and state certified land trust, is seeking an innovative and dynamic Executive Director to guide the Conservancy into...
  • National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time, Lake Tahoe West Senior Project Lead. Position is responsible for working with the National Forest Foundation (NFF) to...
  • Forever Our Rivers Foundation seeks a driven and creative individual to lead this national movement for river health. Deadline 6/14/19.
  • We are looking for an experienced campaigner to lead our work challenging the oil and fracked gas industry, specifically focused on fighting fossil fuel expansion...
  • Colorado's Sustainable Food and Water Team is pursuing a future where people's food and water needs are met in a way that supports local economies,...
  • 7/12-7/14/19 in Taos, NM. With over 21 workshops and keynote speaker, poet Arthur Sze.
  • Badlands Conservation Alliance is seeking an Executive Director. For job description visit https://www.badlandsconservationalliance.org/hiring.
  • NewTowncarShare News seeks a development assistant to help with fundraising campaigns. Strong candidates will have experience administering development programs, communicating with donors, and working...
  • 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,...
  • 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....
  • Beautiful off-the-grid passive solar near the CDT. 9.4 acres, north of Silver City. Sam, 575.388.1921
  • at RCAC. See the full description at https://bit.ly/2WJ3HvY Apply at [email protected]
  • 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.
  • Camping, hiking, backpacking, R2R2R, Tarahumara Easter, Mushroom Festival, www.coppercanyontrails.org.
  • Clean off, cool off & drink. Multiple spray patterns. Better than you imagine. Try it.
  • Actively introduce students to Experiential Education, Outdoor Recreation, and Sustainability while engaging and challenging them to learn and participate in these diverse opportunities. Room, board,...
  • 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...