Governors Vote to Further Endanger Sage-Grouse

The Western Governors’ Association met earlier this month in Colorado to discuss, among other things, plans to oppose federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) protection for Greater sage-grouse and undermine federal conservation laws. The sage-grouse is in grave decline across its range in the western United States, but rather than spend time developing ways to restore the sagebrush sea and maintain the ecological integrity of their home states, the governors instead drafted a Policy Resolution regarding “Species of Concern and Candidate Species.” While the policy apparently applies to all imperiled plants and animals, it is plain that the real species “concerning” the politicians is sage-grouse.

This resolution is mostly just an attempt to tie the hands of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and prevent it from listing the sage-grouse as Endangered. For instance, the resolution would have western states treated as partners in ESA listing determinations, and force the FWS to rely on the states’ analysis rather than on raw scientific data. Essentially, the states are asking FWS to take their word for it rather than conduct its own study, but the political influence on state fish and game departments would surely lead to less protection for sage-grouse.

The resolution also endorses “legislative initiatives, court rulings, petitions or regulatory measures” to delay listing determinations to allow state, federal, and private conservation efforts adequate time to be implemented and demonstrate efficacy. Such a legislative initiative was recently introduced in the House and Senate, and has been widely decried as kicking the can down the road, as such a delay would prove perilous for the sage-grouse.

If the states could be trusted to manage sage-grouse, the bird wouldn’t be facing extinction. The species has been in decline for decades, and predictions of its blinking out are nothing new. And yet, somehow, the states believe that if they just had a little more time…

But what if the state plans fail? The price of failure is extirpation of the bird, leading towards extinction across the range. And maybe that’s what the western governors are banking on. The less sage-grouse there are to conserve, the fewer industries will be affected by the conservation. The hard decisions become easier when there are fewer to make.

Travis Bruner, Executive Director, Western Watersheds Project
Greta Anderson, Deputy Director, Western Watersheds Project


  1. ALF Avatar

    “But what if the state plans fail? The price of failure is extirpation of the bird, leading towards extinction across the range. And maybe that’s what the western governors are banking on. The less sage-grouse there are to conserve, the fewer industries will be affected by the conservation. The hard decisions become easier when there are fewer to make.”

    I grew up in western Oregon and was a hard core angler — especially for steelhead. I’ve ALWAYS thought that was exactly the attitude/philosophy of the Corpse [sic] of Engineers regarding anadromous fish.

  2. Lyn McCormick Avatar
    Lyn McCormick

    Press was denied access to a meeting with Sally Jewel, Gov. Hickenloper and stakeholders in Sage Grouse debate

  3. Theo Chu Avatar
    Theo Chu

    The states have actually had a minor role in the decline of sage-grouse. It is the actions of federal agencies, primarily the BLM, that has resulted in the current situation. For decades the BLM was busy destroying sage habitat to favor livestock and then energy development. Sage grouse need to be listed now because of BLM mismanagement more than all else combined. There were other minor players but the BLM owns this listing should it occur. Whether sage habitats and sage-grouse recover is in their hands, and very nearly their hands alone.

    1. Gary Humbard Avatar
      Gary Humbard

      Point on, the BLM allows overgrazing, burning of sagebrush steppe and then planting cheatgrass for the benefits of cattle and not protecting riparian areas.

      The FWS has plenty of other animals and plants to protect so let the states work to protect the greater sage grouse.

      1. Ida Lupines Avatar
        Ida Lupines

        They can’t afford it, they can’t afford to protect any wildlife without courting hunting groups to fund them. And we all know how that will turn out.

        1. Theo Chu Avatar
          Theo Chu

          I don’t know “how that will turn out”. Please advise.

          1. Ida Lupines Avatar
            Ida Lupines

            Theo, I’m afraid that things will be skewed more in favor of hunting and trapping, or energy development, than wildlife preservation.

      2. Theo Chu Avatar
        Theo Chu

        The states can do very little since BLM controls most of the habitat. Like I said above sage-grouse will sink or swim depending on how BLM manages habitat and they won’t do much without a listing.

      3. MAD Avatar

        The only reason that the BLM and other federal agencies have allowed the habitat to be degraded by “multiple uses” is because the States, with their Livestock associations, have pushed for non-native grazing.

        Please, stop with the nonsense as if BLM woke up one day and decided, “Hey, let’s destroy the habitat for all these species in favor of livestock.” It was at the behest of the local ranchers, with the political clout of the states and livestock associations. There is a simple “but for” causality between livestock grazing and habitat destruction. That grazing was NOT initiated by the BLM, it was only ALLOWED by them. They did not cause the destruction, privately owned livestock created the damage to the environment.

        Now, of course, the BLM and other federal agencies are culpable in allowing the grazing, not enforcing current rules and regs pertaining to grazing, and violating the spirit of the law in relation to all public lands held in trust for the entirety of the American public. The lands should not be allowed to be used by a singular few, who have demonstrated for decades that they take more than they give, and in the process, damage the environment to the detriment of many native species.

  4. Ken Watts Avatar
    Ken Watts

    The western governors care as much about the sage grouse as anybody else and have taken concrete actions to improve habitat and other aspects of protection. Don’t demonize them when they simply want time for there actions to result in improvements.

    1. timz Avatar

      Troll or ignoramus?

    2. Theo Chu Avatar
      Theo Chu

      In their heart of hearts, I believe the governors of Idaho and Utah want sage-grouse to disappear, the sooner the better. I don’t have a feel for Mt & Wy. The governor of Or probably wants them recovered.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan