The Greater Sage-grouse Denied ESA Protection

Outlook for Iconic Bird is Bleak-

By Greta Anderson,  Dr. Michael Connor  and Travis Bruner (208) 720-5595

Hailey, Idaho ­­– In a double-whammy that will doom the sagebrush steppe and the iconic Greater sage-grouse to a dismal future, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced today the Obama Administration’s decision to rely on incomplete planning efforts to protect the bird, rather than the true safety net of the Endangered Species Act. In addition to the finding of “Not Warranted” for federal protection under the ESA, the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service released Records of Decision for land use plans across the west that fall short of what even the government’s own scientists say is necessary to prevent the extinction of the species.

It is well known that greater sage-grouse populations have experienced significant declines, the birds’ range has contracted, and the remaining populations are increasingly fragmented. The results of the recent (August 2015) Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies report on sage-grouse population trends “support previous findings that have documented a long-term (1965-2015) decline of greater sage-grouse range-wide.”

“Clearly, with the continuing decline in sage-grouse numbers, this is not the time to back off protection,” said Dr. Michael Connor, California Director of Western Watersheds Project.

“The Secretary seemed determined to put a happy face on the future of the American West, and so she willfully ignored the hard decisions like limiting energy development, prohibiting transmission lines, and blocking spring cattle grazing,” said Travis Bruner, Executive Director of Western Watersheds Project. “There is no ‘win’ here for sage-grouse. There is only a slighty slower trajectory towards extinction. If this is, as Jewell claims, ‘the future of conservation in America,’ than the sage-grouse isn’t the only species that’s in trouble.”

The “Not Warranted” determination is based in large part on the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service Resource Management Plans and Amendments that cover roughly half of the remaining sage-grouse habitat. But, unless they have changed significantly from the final proposals, none of these plans draw firm management parameters around livestock grazing, the most ubiquitous threat to the species across its range. All the plans defer changes to grazing to future decision-making, despite having clear scientific recommendations and court orders describing what must be done to protect the bird during critical stages of its life cycle.

“It’s obvious from Interior’s propaganda that they have not accurately identified the threat that livestock pose,” said Greta Anderson, Deputy Director of Western Watersheds Project. “Simply throwing money at the problem through the Sage Grouse Initiative is like putting an expensive bandage on a gaping chest wound. The failure here was to staunch the flow and limit livestock’s destructive impacts by significantly altering grazing management.”

Bruner added, “Secretary Jewell has been a failure at understanding the significance of intact and functional ecosystems and healthy biodiversity. She’s an adept businessperson and she’s figured out how to make extractive industries happy by doing as little as possible to ‘conserve’ what’s left of the sagebrush habitat. History will remember her unwillingness to stand up for true conservation.”



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  1. April Lane Avatar
    April Lane

    Secretary Jewell has been a disappointment since stepping into office-unfortunate that so many are beholden to the livestock industry. There promises to be much litigation on both sides of this issue.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      It is possible that Jewell got told from above what to do on this matter.

    2. Barb Rupers Avatar
      Barb Rupers

      Interior’s news release on the subject:

      1. Nancy Avatar

        Not sure how this link will present its self here being that its a radio discussion:

        Glad you were there Travis and voiced an opinion but little if any comment was given to the fact that Sage Grouse populations have declined what 90%? in the last few decades, IN areas that boost about their concerns for wildlife.

        Not rocket science. A century of abuse whether it be introducing invasive species (livestock) seekers of fossil fuels (oil, mining companies) expansion of humans (subdivisions) its all new to a landscape and wildlife that can’t even begin to keep up with the fast paced changes, and destruction to their habitat, by the human species.

  2. Ida Lupines Avatar
    Ida Lupines

    I’m just worried about when the goal post changes again, as the population expands, will oil, gas ranching, hunting and the economy again take precedence over indicator species habitat? Yes, I think it will. I don’t see any voluntary efforts on the part of those opposed to listing such as limiting hunting, appropriate buffer zones, etc. – just nothing to curtail human activities.

    I don’t know if keeping to a bare minimum number of birds, like the New England Cottontail Rabbit a few weeks ago, and the Wolverine, is enough to declare a ‘remarkable’ recovery of a species. Or the longest possible time before enacting a plan, and killing off predators will all have their limits.

    1. Ida Lupines Avatar
      Ida Lupines

      that should read ‘as the human population expands’.

      1. Theo Chu Avatar
        Theo Chu

        It is natural to be concerned about the impacts of hunting on sage-grouse, but it does not belong in the same sentence with the other things you list as being threats to “indicator species habitat” anymore than would other forms of predation. Hunting for sage-grouse where it is allowed is for the most part already very limited, tightly regulated, and monitored and actually provides some of the most reliable data on reproductive success and by extension habitat condition both short term and long term for species. There is no evidence that I am aware of that such hunting is having a negative impact on sage-grouse at the population level.

        1. Ida Lupines Avatar
          Ida Lupines

          I hope so.

          UT isn’t happy, but the other governors seem to be willing to cooperate to save the sage grouse. Let’s give it a chance, I guess.

          In one of the posts from earlier, from WWP, it described how the sage grouse and sagebrush evolved together. It’s just so beautiful, it would be a shame to lose it. The sage grouse dance is even incorporated into Native American ceremonial dances. Just beautiful.

          And yet the dominant culture describes the bird as ‘bizarre’, and other unappreciative ways. I’ve even read one description of it as ‘unable to adapt’!

  3. Sandy Lee Avatar
    Sandy Lee

    This is very sad news about the Greater sagebrush grouse. It will go the way of wolves and other predators that ranchers do not want. Sally Jewell was a beacon of hope becuase of her REI association when appointed but she is in fact ignorant and just as bad as the past Secty of the Interior. She has done nothing to help our country. Very disappointing.

    1. timz Avatar

      Sorry I have forgotten, please remind me who appointed her?

        1. Nancy Avatar

          “The president has made strong statements about the importance of scientific integrity, which we agree with. But if actions speak louder than words then President Obama cares no more about scientific integrity than did his predecessor. Vast sums of money are spent on science, but no one wants to take simple steps to ensure its independence. That’s a scary thought. Science absolutely requires independence and integrity. Without them science ceases to be science. It becomes a tool to manipulate people.”

          A good read Timz:

          We can continue as a dominate species to put all sorts of people (in powerful places, with lots of promises) but fact is, if we, “the human species” doesn’t wake up AND soon, to the destruction of Planet Earth, well, this statement IMHO, puts it into perspective:

          “Science makes clear that we are transgressing planetary boundaries that have kept civilization safe for the past 10,000 years. Evidence is growing that human pressures are starting to overwhelm the Earth’s buffering capacity. Humans have propelled the planet into a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene – the Age of Man…We cannot continue on our current path. The time for procrastination is over. We cannot afford the luxury of denial”

        2. Ralph Maughan Avatar
          Ralph Maughan

          Obama’s talk about climate change is permanently sullied to me after the approved of Shell Oil drilling the Arctic.

          However, we have to consider that the Republicans all reject that there is any problem with human caused climate. They have to be kept out of the presidency in 2016 at any cost.

          I don’t know of any other case where a major political party in any country with a 2-party system has so self-radicalized itself.

  4. Ida Lupines Avatar
    Ida Lupines

    I’m forwarding this on from the WWP. Dirty deeds done by the energy industry and federal government:

  5. Kayla Avatar

    Now am not surprised on this action! Have seen things like this for years by both political parties. How many of those in government rather on a national, state, or local level in reality do not care! How many in this country are beholden to the economic, military, and industrial complex. Those that rule are the bankers along with the CEO’s of the world’s major cooperations with the world’s political leaders (politicians) being their puppets and doing their bidding. The environment and the health of this planet with it’s myriad of life forms does not matter when it comes to their greeds and dreams of power / control over the people. They use the environment as a stepping stone to their dreams of power and control with in reality not caring onebit. If they really did care then you would see it in their actions. But how many are fooled by a few simple words.

    Now personally I lost hope a long time ago in either party or group doing the right thing. And also if some environmentalists really do care, then why do they cling to such a degree to their gas guzzling cars, over materialistic life, and refusing to live a simple and sustainable life in their daily lives it seems. How many many species and life forms on this planet will have to disappear because of the greeds, lust for power and control of a few. Personally in my life am grateful to the Creator is the wildness and such that have been able to see and experience during my life.

    Wishing Everyone the Best!

    1. Kayla Avatar

      Now will also add that do sincerely think we here on this planet will have to go thru some really hard times with much destruction till we come to our senses and with all of us together work and live for a better planet for not only us but all species. Just my opinion.

  6. Theo Chu Avatar
    Theo Chu

    This decision was hardly unexpected. What I don’t understand is why they removed SG from the candidate list when the population is still at best stable but more likely in decline. That took a bunch of heat/incentive off the agencies and ranchers to continue and increase efforts to protect and recover habitat.

    This is not the end of sage-grouse and another five years or so of letting the ranchers and agencies try and make good on all their promises is OK. If they are successful, great. If not we will be in an even stronger position to demand they be listed, perhaps with a more supportive administration and congress. Also a listing would have stimulated more action to weaken the ESA and the classification would have been shortly overturned by this congress as happened with wolves, which was a very dangerous precedent and I don’t want to see it happen again. Personally I don’t believe anything effective will be done to help sage-grouse until they are listed, but another 5 or even 10 years probably won’t make a big difference.

  7. Nancy Avatar

    Makes no difference whether you loved or hated him, MJ had the right message:

    “If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself then make a change”


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