Preeminent Sage Grouse Scientist Eviscerates Wyoming Core Strategy
Dr. Clait Braun is indisputably one of the preeminent sage grouse experts in the nation. He has studied sage grouse throughout their range and has published many peer reviewed scientific articles about the species over his long career. Recently Dr. Braun wrote a letter to the Casper Star Tribune in response to a letter by Brian A. Rutledge, vice president of the National Audubon Society who wrote to the Tribune in support of the Wyoming sage grouse core area strategy.
In the letter, Dr. Braun essentially eviscerates Wyoming’s sage grouse core area strategy as a political plan that isn’t working and has resulted in a sage grouse population decline of 60% based on an analysis by Wyoming Game and Fish during the period between 2006-2013. This period includes all of the years since the Wyoming sage grouse core strategy was implemented.
Dr. Braun goes on to note that “there are no documented increases in numbers of sage grouse or in the distribution of sage grouse anywhere, including Wyoming, despite a proliferation of plans and money spent to try to benefit sage grouse.”
Despite this, the governors of the sage grouse states have recently signed a letter asking that their respective sage grouse plans be accepted as adequate by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency responsible for determining whether sage grouse should be protected under the Endangered Species Act. A bill S.2394 has also been introduced into the U.S. Senate which would mandate that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service do just that and defer listing sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act for 10 years.
It’s clear that none of the state sage grouse plans are adequate to protect sage grouse over the long term and that they are politically motivated plans that equate to lipstick on a pig. The money being pumped into so-called “habitat improvement” projects is being wasted and in some cases making the problem worse by killing sagebrush and causing cheatgrass to proliferate.
What is really needed is for livestock grazing in sage grouse habitat to be sharply curtailed and for sage grouse habitat to closed to energy and mining but none of the state plans really do that because, as we have repeatedly seem, they are voluntary. To borrow a phrase from the Endangered Species Act, they are “inadequate regulatory mechanisms” to protect sage grouse.
To defer listing of sage grouse and stick with the ridiculous state plans would be a disaster for sage grouse and the lands they inhabit.
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. We do not accept unsolicited “guest” authors or advertising.
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Yet again, congress wants to mess with the ESA and endangered species recovery for political reasons.
Unfortunately, the results of Dr. Clait Braun’s actions/letter will be entirely predictable. The state of WY will attempt to isolate and discredit him. They will ignore his concerns, take away any funding and/or permits that he may have thru them based on false pretenses, and then they will go about their plan which is apparently not working. That is the (incredibly undemocratic) state of science if it is inconvenient for the managing body (usually state game agencies or USFWS).
Here, on the Western Slope of Colorado, the local county government is trying to keep the Gunnison Sage Grouse from being listed. The Gunnison County Commissioners have threatened litigation as has the governor of Colorado.
“There could have been more habitat permanently protected in perpetuity rather than with stipulations that can come and go,” said Ed Arnett, director of the group’s center for Responsible Energy Development. Breeding leks, “they should be protected based on science.”
Montana Approves Sage Grouse Hunting Closures
Have you ever seen a sage grouse?
What difference does that make?
This bird’s right to habitat has nothing to do with whether or not I have ‘seen’ one. I’d like to see a wolverine too, but that is becoming increasingly unlikely, because it’s more important that someone have the right to kill one than see one. I may not ever see an elephant, a lion, a polar bear, or a California condor either. I think that oil and fracking interests would prefer that people not see them, so that most would not know what they are missing.
Last fall I observed large numbers of Sage grouse near Dubois, Idaho. This was just at first light and bit before in the headlights. The grouse were bunched up in small areas where there was no sage brush, however the in the surrounding area the sage brush was extremely dense. I came away thinking that grouse may gather in these areas of low vegetation at night because the dense sage brush provides cover for predators and the grouse could become easy picking after dark. While I am aware of the relationship between Sage grouse and sage brush, could it be that areas of dense sage brush are not optimal for the rehabilitation of Sage grouse populations? Cattle are routinely grazed throughout the area mentioned. Each one these “parks” had either a salt block or water trough, or sometimes both, in them.
On the other hand, the sage grouse population in this area is the highest I know of in the places I haunt – grazing of cattle is significant – yet sage brush is as dense as I have ever seen.
I have not spent much time learning about the plight of sage grouse, there aren’t nearly as many around as I saw when I was a kid. The fact that they seem to be thriving in this area, with heavy grazing, makes me wonder if the scientists know all of the variables at play. Just pondering out loud.