Interior puts out its big plan to save sage grouse

Livestock grazing harm to the imperiled bird ignored-

The U. S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) just released the final environmental reviews for proposed land use plans. These, it says, “will help conserve greater sage-grouse habitat and support sustainable economic development on portions of public lands in 10 states across the West.”

Collaboration between the state and federal government is the big word in the plan. So is the “best available science.” Their new release says  “The proposed plans are grounded in the best available science and address threats identified in a peer-reviewed report written by state and federal wildlife biologists. . . ,”This is the Conservation Objectives Team (COT) report.  Apparently though the COT report did not think changes needed to be made to biggest user per acre in sage grouse range on public lands — the highly subsidized industry of livestock grazing.

In Boise, Idaho, the Western Watersheds Project (WWP), which has played a major role making the federal government care about the sage grouse, said, “it’s disappointing that Secretary Jewell can’t look the livestock industry in the face and say, ‘Yes, this is a big part of the problem.’ “Instead she said, ‘We’ll deal with that later,’ and put off any management prescriptions until future planning efforts.” Travis Bruner, WWP’s Executive Director asked, “What’s the point in undertaking such a huge process as the current plans without addressing the most widespread threat to sage-grouse in a meaningful way?”

The fact sheet provided by the government said,

The plans put no lands off limits to grazing, nor do they require a one-size-fits-all approach to grazing allotments.  Instead, the proposed plans recognize the need to evaluate varied local ecological conditions and site potential when deciding where and how to apply different types of management. During grazing permit renewals and modifications on lands within sage-grouse habitat, the BLM will use the best available science to incorporate locally developed management objectives for sage-grouse habitat and rangeland health standards, consistent with ecological potential. The BLM and USFS will prioritize monitoring for compliance, review and processing of grazing permits in sage-grouse habitat, with a focus on lands containing riparian areas and wet meadows.

Bruner said, “This is unfortunate, because the needs of sage-grouse – seven inches grass height for hiding, sufficient residual vegetation for food, and protection from trampling by sheep and cows – don’t vary by local ecological conditions. The bird has well-established habitat needs and allowing for local control and deferred implementation means damning compromises on public lands.”



  1. Gary Humbard Avatar
    Gary Humbard

    “The needs of sage-grouse – seven inches grass height for hiding, sufficient residual vegetation for food, and protection from trampling by sheep and cows – don’t vary by local ecological conditions”.

    It astounds me that after years of analyzing data, conducting hundreds of meetings, reviewing peer reviewed reports among other things, that Travis Bruner seems to know more about the GRSG than the leading GRSG scientists. Of course, the scientists have a gun placed to their head to make sure they write what Sally Jewel wants them to. Please!

  2. Scott Avatar

    Actually I believe the quoted government fact sheet is potentially a very good thing. Habitat can be managed to benefit sage grouse and other grassland birds as well. Leaving flexibility for managers to implement their plans instead of one size fits all regulations is a remarkably wise choice! I am actually stunned by this. I never expected such a good decision by the government. Maybe change really is happening after all!

    Now comes the hard part. How to educate ranchers in the holistic adaptive management techniques to actually improve conditions for the grouse. You can’t legislate that. That takes both education and effort in the field. It takes quite a bit of monitoring too. The type of preemptive monitoring best done by the Rancher committed to improving his operation for both him and wildlife. Probably takes a bit of after the fact monitoring by the BLM too, just to ensure the rancher is committed.

    Luckily there are plenty of educational resources available:

    1. mikepost Avatar

      Scott I agree, although I suspect few on this blog are such pragmatic moderates. In my own 33000 acre eco reserve we have switched from long tern cow/calf leases to short term stocker operations so as to be able to more nimbly manage rangeland for wildlife habitat improvement…and before someone comments, total elimination of grazing is often the most harmful this you can do to previously grazed ground. Not only that, some species, burrowing owls for instance, need it and flourish in lightly grazed environments.

      1. Scott Avatar

        Yes, the concept of undergrazing is a difficult one for some people. Belsky in particular had a very difficult time understanding the concept. I believe Audubon did too.

  3. Ralph Maughan Avatar
    Ralph Maughan

    Western Watersheds sings with accompanying strutting birds, “Sage Grouse Warrior of the West”

    1. WM Avatar

      Congratulations to Travis on a message well delivered. Nice haunting slide guitar work appropriate for the piece, with some fine pickin’ and a strumming’. Loved the lyrics, delivered by a more than passable voice. Catchy tune, even easy to dance to, as the “love warriors” would surely attest.

      I’d give it a 10 using American Band Stand standards. The photography gets a 10, too!

      1. Ida Lupine Avatar
        Ida Lupine

        I actually loved the guitar work too – but my favorite line is ♪’we’re gonna save this bird and we got an attorney’♫ 🙂

  4. Yvette Avatar

    Wonderful video, Ralph! And that stream is ghastly. Just unbelievable!

    Sharing widely. Loved this video. Good work!

  5. Todd Shuman Avatar
    Todd Shuman

    Great video, to all involved in creating it. (The video is awesome, but I really appreciate the song by Travis Brune, of WWP.) Concerning the Mike Post “post” (“total elimination of grazing is often the most harmful this you can do to previously grazed ground. Not only that, some species, burrowing owls for instance, need it and flourish in lightly grazed environments. . .”, do you care to list some sources for this claim? And if some light grazing needs to occur, why are cows more appropriate to do this than native ungulates?

  6. Virginia Bennett Avatar
    Virginia Bennett

    Anyone who knows about farming, knows that sheep are the most destructive of pastureland. Surely the BLM must know this. Of the many stories I’ve read about the BLM’s favoring ranchers, this fits right in! I think the US government should launch a full-scale investigation into this agency!

  7. rahul kumar Avatar
    rahul kumar

    Nice video. .

  8. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    These people have no interest in protecting sage grouse. You’d think trying to stop an ESA listing would be enough, but they don’t want any kinds of protection at all that will interfere with energy development. I know ranching is a threat also, but energy development is a bigger one I think:

    Questions Foreshadow Challenges to Federal Sage Grouse Plans

    Otter Tells Jewell She Needs to Fix BLM Sage Grouse Plan

    Sage Grouse Winter Habitat in Limbo

    “While the political wrangling continues, Fish and Wildlife continues with its task. It will decide on the grouse’s status in September, regardless of whether a law blocks the agency from actually taking action to preserve the bird.”


  9. Ida Lupines Avatar
    Ida Lupines

    Such leadership!

    Interior Boss Hopes Sage Grouse Won’t Make Endangered List

    I wonder how the wildfires will affect any decision? Or how they will ignore the wildfires effect on sage grouse habitat? It’s one of those things that humans have little control over or can predict:

    Sage Grouse Habitat: Burned and Cheated?

    1. Ida Lupines Avatar
      Ida Lupines

      Oops, I really messed that up, didn’t I.

      Here’s what I tried to put in blockquotes:

      “The decision rests with the Fish and Wildlife Service,” she said Tuesday at a breakfast hosted by The Christian Science Monitor. “I remain optimistic that a not-warranted listing is possible, but I have stayed completely arm’s length from them in terms of that decision.”

  10. Ida Lupines Avatar
    Ida Lupines

    I just can’t wait for this, and the ‘historic conservation efforts’:

    1. Elk375 Avatar

      I would not hold my breath Ida. There are some heavy hitters in that crowd that do not want sage hens listed.

      If sage hens declared endangered than I will leave Friday night for Southwest Montana and harvest my last two limits on sage hens. Two birds per day or a possession limit of 4 birds.

      1. Ida Lupine Avatar
        Ida Lupine

        There are some heavy hitters in that crowd that do not want sage hens listed.

        Yes, I know. That’s why I’m curious to see. One report (Salt Lake Tribune) says Sal will be flanked by two of them. I hope it isn’t at gunpoint.

        Just don’t take more than your limit. 😉

        1. Elk375 Avatar

          Never have, never will.

          BTW, I would be glad dress out and freeze a couple of birds and FEDEX them overnight to you. It is favor that you have never eaten before.

          1. Ida Lupines Avatar
            Ida Lupines

            Elk, I wasn’t very optimistic that the birds would be listed. I just hope that the states and industry will be true to their word. I hope they will at least make the buffer zones around the leks larger.


            No, I haven’t tried sage grouse. My husband used to live in Idaho and has from hunting friends. Thanks anyway, but I think I’ll live vicariously through him! 🙂


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