Assessing the Regulatory Landscape for Greater Sage-grouse

The effort to list the Greater Sage-grouse via the Endangered Species Act (ESA) has been an uphill battle.  However, even as the end-game has yet to be realized, the effort itself has been remarkably successful at prompting bureaucratic backflips and a whole lot of paper-shuffling to accommodate consideration of the species.  Unfortunately, many of the existing and developing bureaucratic protections aimed at avoiding or forestalling an ESA listing thus far have been manifest on paper only.  They are unenforceable.  Agencies continue to resist implementing meaningful protections that would ensure tangible curtailment of impact to Greater Sage-grouse habitat on-the-ground.  Meanwhile, Greater Sage-grouse habitat continues in decline.

Given the scope of its habitat, an ESA listing of sage grouse could radically change public land management in 11 western states.  Jessica Ferrel, an attorney at Marten Law, gives an accurate overview of the regulatory landscape as it has unfolded:

Potential Sage Grouse Listing Continues to Shape Western Energy Development and Grazing Rights[sic] – Jessica K. Ferrel,  Marten Law

The latest BLM memoranda supplement several federal and state efforts to address sage grouse protection, including BLM’s July 2011 “strategy” document to protect the grouse and its habitat; BLM’s 2001 Special Status Species Policy, 2004 National Sage Grouse Habitat Conservation Strategy, and 2010 Instruction Memorandum governing sage grouse management considerations for energy development; Wyoming’s mapping program designed to protect millions of acres of sage grouse breeding grounds in the State, and additional individual state initiatives. Many of these efforts are aimed at avoiding a federal ESA listing of the bird. All of the federal initiatives, policies, and strategies, however, are discretionary and effectively unenforceable.



  1. aves Avatar

    This personifies how important the Endangered Species Act is, how short-sighted extractive industries can be, and how political machinations try to fool us into believing that those in charge are truly addressing the problem. There are definitely more imperiled bird species waiting to be listed but it’s unfathomable how so much public attention and advance warning of the sage grouse’s status has gone to waste. The dire warnings about the economic and social impact of listing the grouse just don’t align with such inaction. The only sincere doom and gloom scenarios involve the result of continued habitat loss on the species.

    I see a lot of similarities between the sage grouse’s situation and that of the northern spotted owl. Repeated warnings of the effect of continued habitat loss on the species, extractive industries screaming about the economic and social impact of saving the owl, and the opinions of biologists continually overridden by politicians. I fear we are headed for a similar endgame as well in a political solution that pretends to save the species but clearly does not. I only hope the effort and interest will stay with the sage grouse unlike it did with the owl, which continues to decline but whose support from NGOs and the public vanished after the Clinton administration’s phony conservation efforts.

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Brian Ertz