Sage Grouse Pushed Two More Steps Toward Endangered Species Act Protection by Nevada.

With the firing of Nevada Department of Wildlife chief, Ken Mayer and massive sagebrush suppression projects –in place of grazing reductions – by the BLM, sage grouse are headed toward trouble in Nevada.

A behind the scenes battle has taken place between many competing forces like Nevada Department of Wildlife, BLM, Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), the mining industry, the livestock industry, Southern Nevada Water Authority, USDA Wildlife Services, anti-predator hunting groups, and environmentalists who have competed for their point of view. One line of thought says that sage grouse and deer will thrive if only more money is spent killing predators like ravens, coyotes, or others. The other, and more long lasting, strategy is to improve habitat by reducing disturbance so that nesting and hiding cover gives sage grouse a chance to evade predation and deer more forage.

It appears that the industry forces have won the day in a multi-pronged attempt to divert attention away from protecting sage grouse habitat through real, on-the-ground changes (reductions) in grazing or restoration of crested wheatgrass seedings to sagebrush habitat. They have successfully taken down the head of the Nevada Department of Wildlife Ken Mayer, who, by most accounts, had a reasonably balanced view of how to successfully keep sage grouse from becoming the next species to become listed as a threatened or endangered species under the Endangered Species Act by adding protection to their habitat.

With Ken Mayer’s removal, DCNR will have a greater say in how to move forward and distribute funds, i.e. control science. Apparently there has been competition between the two agency heads over different aspects of the sage grouse planning process.

Now it seems that the BLM will have full support for continuing their status quo management for the benefit of industry. All across Nevada the BLM is planning for massive and damaging vegetation treatments based on fantastical modeling concocted to rationalize logging in northwest forest environments. Fire Regime Condition Class (FRCC) is described as “an interagency, standardized tool for determining the degree of ecological departure from historical, or reference condition, vegetation, fuels, and disturbance regimes” but it isn’t designed for arid, desert landscapes. It’s conclusions are diametrically opposed to basic principals about rangeland fires. In order for a landscape to be at FRCC 1 classification the model calls for more disturbance. Greater disturbance almost always results in smaller, finer fuels which burn more readily in desert landscapes, it also means cheatgrass which burns like gasoline. To compound this misuse of the model, the BLM is biasing the model by inputting inaccurate fire frequency assumptions about sagebrush habitats and claiming they burn on shorter intervals than they historically have. Instead of the short 60-75 year fire frequencies assumed by the BLM in their FRCC modeling, a recent paper published by Bukowski et. al. indicates that:

“Historical fire rotations were estimated at 171-342 years for Wyoming big sagebrush (A. tridentata ssp. wyomingensis) and 137-217 years for mountain big sagebrush (A. tridentata ssp. vaseyana).”

The paper warns that:

“Chaining, herbicide application, and other treatments designed to thin stands of dense sagebrush to restore “natural” levels are not needed. These treatments are generally detrimental to sagebrush-obligate species”

The BLM also unwisely proposes to cut and burn large swaths of piñon and juniper trees in an effort to restore sage grouse habitat.

The same paper suggests that:

“proposals to undertake control of piñon-juniper encroachment for ecological restoration are premature, if they assume that trees are generally unnatural in sagebrush because of fire exclusion. Our findings show this assumption is not supported, as trees naturally occurred in sagebrush landscapes.”

Piñon and juniper forests provide important habitat for many bird species, cover for elk and deer, and slow snowmelt into the spring. Piñon pine also provide massive amounts of food with their pine nuts. When these forests are cut, burned, and disturbed oftentimes cheatgrass invades the lower elevation areas where managers hope to “restore” sage grouse habitat making this a losing game.

In just a portion of the Ely District the BLM plans to disturb hundreds of thousands of acres using various methods.
In just a portion of the Ely District the BLM plans to disturb hundreds of thousands of acres using various methods.
Sage grouse habitat mapping for the Cave Valley, Lake Valley, South Spring Valley, and Hamlin Valley project areas.
Sage grouse habitat mapping for the Cave Valley, Lake Valley, South Spring Valley, and Hamlin Valley project areas.

In two appalling proposals the BLM plans to mow, cut, burn and herbicide hundreds of thousands of acres for the claimed benefit of habitat restoration. Of course these “habitat restoration” projects only serve to benefit the livestock industry and Southern Nevada Water Authority by making there be more grass for livestock grazing and fewer trees to transpire water out of the ground so that it can be piped to Las Vegas. The problems with these treatments are that they greatly disturb large areas, are expensive, and will likely cause more problems for sage grouse than they solve. What’s more appalling about these projects is that they occur on top of the last, best sage grouse habitat left in this southernmost range for the species and they mow right over the last few sage grouse leks, or breeding grounds, in the whole area. And, it gets even worse. These projects also sneak in the permitting of rebuilding of fencing, wells, pipelines, and water troughs that have never been evaluated in the past. All of this while crested wheatgrass wastelands, planted for livestock grazing and worthless for sage grouse habitat, are totally ignored.

Meanwhile, in areas that burned last summer, the BLM is planting more crested wheatgrass and Siberian wheatgrass along with forage kochia in its restoration efforts. All of these species are non-native and provide no benefits for sage grouse. The decisions closing grazing in the fire affected areas provide only very meager recovery criteria that do not allow for sagebrush recovery.

These projects and fire recovery plans will result in the extirpation of sage grouse and will undoubtably continue with support from NDOW and DCNR. And now, it appears that USDA Wildlife Services will swoop in to kill as many coyotes, ravens, and badgers that they can just to make sure that welfare cowboys don’t have to lift a finger to save the vanishing sage grouse of Nevada.

In a New York Times post about the firing of Ken Meyer a parade of 70 plus year old detractors gave some memorable quotes about Meyer’s ouster.

“What did Ken Mayer do? Nothing. Just habitat, habitat, habitat, which is a terrible thing for a person in his position to do. You get instant results when you poison a raven or shoot a coyote.”
Cecil Fredi, 74, president of Hunters Alert

“voodoo science.” “He was anti-predator control, and he says he’s dedicated to wildlife in Nevada. That just burns me.”
Gerald Lent, 74, a former chairman of the Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners

“I’m sure most of the people being considered for his job graduated from a college. These people are the cause of the destruction of wildlife.”
Cliff Gardner, 74, a rancher who received federal subsidy payments totaling $184,724 from 1995 through 2011 in Nevada’s remote Ruby Valley

Here’s another quote:

“Life is tough, but it’s tougher if you’re stupid.”
John Wayne, as Sgt Striker in the 1949 movie Sands of Iwo Jima


  1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
    Ralph Maughan

    “ ‘I’m sure most of the people being considered for his job graduated from a college. These people are the cause of the destruction of wildlife.
    Cliff Gardner, 74, a rancher who received federal subsidy payments totaling $184,724 from 1995 through 2011 in Nevada’s remote Ruby Valley.”

    This certainly tells us about the mentality of these privileged old rural Nevadans who spent a lifetime degrading the land and wildlife. People going to college . . . how awful! No wonder I am so pleased to call him another “taker” — a welfare rancher and a waste of the planet’s bioproductivity.

  2. Rancher Bob Avatar
    Rancher Bob

    It seems every 3 months or so a new area has a new sage grouse plan. One thing about it the next five years will give us some idea on what works and what does not, and we’ll find out what kind of grouse biologist you are.
    There seems to be a interest problem 2 comments in 3 days, have you not learned anything from the wolf introduction. You need to the basics, like the sage grouse is a sacred big to the _______ native tribe. Sage grouse are social birds film footage works real well. Also Sage grouse are predatory, vegans have to understand 25% of the worlds food is lost to insects, insect predators are very important to a plant based diet.

  3. Great Basin Avatar
    Great Basin

    We’re interested, but perhaps jaded. NV public lands management is a joke, that refuses to acknowledge livestock grazing as a contributing factor to sage grouse decline.

    1. Rancher Bob Avatar
      Rancher Bob

      Great Basin
      Interested but never commented until a rancher commented, interesting, well I’ll take your word for the conditions there. If this was a wolf article there would have been over a 100 comments by now, that’s where the ball has been dropped. It’s how the story is told not the story. The buffalo people have learned they use genetic pure, free roaming buffalo, to sell their point. Even though the US government bought a large part of those genetics and free to roam a 2 million acre plus fenced park, but it works.
      The sage grouse is long over due for some help no doubt about that.
      I have one question though how does a cow make feces if there’s no vegetation? Is it not a directly related event like a predator prey relationship? One can not occur without the other. Enjoy your weekend work calls again.

      1. Nancy Avatar

        “I have one question though how does a cow make feces if there’s no vegetation?”

        RB – got a few hundred acres up behind my place thats mostly sagebrush, belonging to the ranch next to me. They’ve had no problem leasing out those acres to a local rancher for “grazing” of his cattle, at a much greater price than what he’d pay for public land grazing.

        I’m thinking this ranch has kept this land under sagebrush, which makes them eligible for compensation/conservation easement, etc. even though the lease cattle, when they are done with it, leave it greatly degraded for most wildlife.

        Times that by 10, in the southwest, where ranchers are still trying to suck what they can out of the land, with their cattle.

  4. Great Basin Avatar
    Great Basin

    Cows are the problem for sage grouse and all other creatures on NV public lands.

    Go head up buffalo creek in the Santa Rosa-Paradise Peak Wilderness. If you thought those photos of the Jarbidge R.D. posted on this website were bad…

    The vegetation is gone, the soil is so saturated with cow feces and urine when you hike on the trails that’s all you smell as you kick up the dust.

    The creek is destroyed and tastes like cow piss..

    I know the range manager on the Santa Rosa R.D. is not doing his job properly.

    Would be a good project for WWP.

  5. Great Basin Avatar
    Great Basin

    Not to mention water grabs, wholesale of public lands and destruction of roadless areas.

  6. Great Basin Avatar
    Great Basin

    *No vegetation

    I meant areas of denuded vegetation stretching for many yards on either side of the creek. There are patches with literally no vegetation left where it should be abundant. The denuded areas are just dirt and cow pies.

    RB- Nothing personal against ranchers, but they’ve made a bad name for themselves concerning public lands in the west.


Ken Cole is a 5th generation Idahoan, an avid fly fisherman, wildlife enthusiast, and photographer. He is the interim Idaho Director for Western Watersheds Project.

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Ken Cole