(Casper Star Tribune, September 22) – A decision to keep the greater sage grouse off the endangered species list is a credit to collaborative conservation efforts in Wyoming and other Western states, officials said Tuesday.
The meeting included the approval of far-reaching federal management plans on public lands.
The decision to keep the sage grouse off the endangered list was announced in an early-morning video via Twitter from Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, who lauded collaboration at the state, federal and private levels.
“It was Wyoming’s leadership that showed us what was possible for sage grouse conservation,” said Dan Ashe, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Wyoming has been a leader in efforts to curb the bird’s decline since 2008, when a state task force was created. Every five years, panels of ranchers, scientists, state and federal agencies across Wyoming have convened to assess the state of the iconic Western species.
Wyoming’s efforts focused on creating buffers around sage grouse breeding grounds and capping the amount of development that can occur in or near designated sage grouse habitat.
Though the Endangered Species Act does not consider the economic impact of a listing, Wyoming’s conservation efforts attempted to balance private landowners’ requests and energy development demands with maintaining areas of high sage grouse population. Federal and state efforts have targeted invasive grasses that threaten the sage grouse’s habitat, sagebrush.
“Today’s decision recognizes Wyoming and other Western states were successful. We can continue to create jobs and share our natural resources with the rest of the nation while the greater sage grouse thrives,” Gov. Matt Mead said.
The decision not to list the bird is likely a boon to those in the energy industry in Wyoming, who feared the restrictions on development a listing would bring. But others say the land management plans approved Tuesday are just as threatening to energy development as an endangered listing.
“We call on Secretary Jewell to explain why the states’ sage grouse conservation plans were rejected in favor of the federal LUPAs (land management plans), especially in view of the fact the Department of the Interior reached a ‘not warranted’ decision without them,” said Laura Skaer, executive director for the American Exploration and Mining Association, in a news release.
But disagreements are likely to keep conservation moving forward, said Andrew Wetzler, director of the Land and Wildlife Program at the National Resources Defense Council.
“It will keep pressure on the Department of the Interior and the Forest Service to maintain sage grouse, and sagebrush sea conservation, throughout the West,” Wetzler said.
Overall, the decision confirms the worth of the Endangered Species Act as an instigator for voluntary conservation, Wetzler said.
“The fact that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had previously found years ago that the bird might need listing, I think, was a large motivation in getting these kind of land use plans together,” Wetzler said.
Officials called for continued work to keep the sage grouse from returning to its decline.
“The conservation plan announced today marks a massive shift in the way our nation thinks about how to defend and protect wild animals and landscapes,” said Rhea Suh, president of the Nation Resources Defense Council. “It’s all hands on deck, with states and private landowners as essential partners with the federal government.”
Jewell called sage grouse “the canary in the coal mine” for the sagebrush steppe.
“It’s not an exaggeration to say we are trying to save an entire landscape,” Jewell said. “We got a lot of work ahead. Today’s announcement is really the end of the beginning. We need to implement these state plans and fed plans. We need to keep learning about what’s working on these lands.”