How to protect the sage grouse–create new or expanded national parks

With the recent decision not to list the Greater Sage Grouse under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and given the overall weak measures in various Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service (FS) conservation plans, it behooves activists to consider measures that will protect the sage grouse, and its habitat, along with the more than 300 other species that depend on sagebrush steppe.

One of the most effective ways of protecting sage grouse habitat is to expand existing national parks and/or create new ones. The National Park Service’s mandate to make natural ecosystem protection it’s primary mission is one of the reasons wildlife advocates should consider national parks as a conservation strategy. National Parks are also more popular with the public, incur more scrutiny than other national lands, and do not have to satisfy extractive interests.

For instance, while wind power, fossil fuel extraction, livestock grazing, the planting of exotic plants like crested wheatgrass (for cattle forage), and other developments harmful to sage grouse are permitted on other public lands, these activities are largely forbidden on national park units.

Therefore expansion and creation of new national parks could be the best way to protect the sage grouse and the sagebrush ecosystem. After all we have created dozens of park units designed to protect and feature natural geological wonders like volcanic landscapes (think Craters of the Moon, Lava Beds, Sunset Crater, Lassen Volcano) and plants/plant communities like Everglades, Joshua Tree, Redwood, Sequoia  saguaro cactus, and Tall Grass Prairie.  We have yet to establish a national park whose prime purpose is to protect a major ecosystem type like the sagebrush steppe or an iconic member of that community like the sage grouse. Some of our existing park units do include substantial representatives of sage brush steppe, but not nearly enough sage habitat is currently within our national park system. Expansion of units containing sagebrush or creating new units that have large representation of sagebrush is an excellent way to keep this unique habitat type and the sage grouse.

Among the potential areas that could be designated new or expanded national park units that would protect representative samples of the sagebrush steppe ecosystem and thereby protect sage grouse, the following areas should be considered:




Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park expansion (to include adjacent BLM lands), CO

Canyonlands National Park expansion, UT

Curlew (current National Grassland), ID

Dinosaur National Park (expansion to include adjacent BLM lands), CO, UT

Great Basin National Park expansion (to include adjacent BLM lands), NV

Heart of the Great Basin (Monitor Range, Toquima Range, Toiyabe Mtns, and adjacent BLM lands), NV

High Desert (BLM lands stretching from Hart Mountain NWR, to Sheldon NWR, to the Catlow Rim, Malheur NWR, Steens      Mountain NM, and the Alvord Desert), NV, OR

Owyhee Canyonlands, ID, NV, OR

Red Desert (Adobe Town, Jack Morrow Hills, connecting lands), WY

Ruby Mountains (including Ruby Valley)

Thunder Basin (current National Grassland), WY

Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area (expansion to include adjacent BLM lands) MT, WY

Charles M. Russell (current National Wildlife Refuge and expansion to include adjacent BLM lands) MT


Creation of new national park units or expansion of existing parks would have many other benefits as well usually associated with parks including greater economic opportunities, protection of air and water quality.






  1. Ida Lupines Avatar
    Ida Lupines

    Wonderful – the sage brush steppe is a uniquely American ecosystem that does need to be preserved. I’m all for this, and will do whatever I can in support of it – whether the creation of a NP or expanding of an existing one(s).

  2. birdpond Avatar

    Wonderful ideas, all. Truly,in my deepest heart and soul, I’d love to see it happen. We have enough cities, thank you, and enough human sprawl to choke this horse. And, I hope what I write next turns out to be wrong, but – The very same forces that stopped full protections for the Sage Grouse are just as likely to cry ‘foul’ if the President dares designate any more lands as National Parks.

    After all, they’re trying to get into our existing National Parks, as it is, so they can extract more of their dirty profits. Some lobbies only care about squeezing out every last molecule of profitable ‘commodity’ from everything they see, regardless of any other, more important intrinsic value.

    I know you know this as well as anyone.

    What we need in this country is a new,less selfish, less greedy ‘growth-at-all-costs-and-praise-the-almighty-dollar’ mindset. A paradigm shift where the future of our entire living planet, full biodiversity and unsullied air, soil and water, are more important than transient, temporary financial gain.

    But that is unlikely without strong leadership, able to stand up against these powerful lobbies.

    So maybe we need a better argument. Something that makes logical sense, rather than emotional.

    In fact, that is basis of my new rallying cry, because when it comes down to it, the one, most important, most irreplaceable, most imperiled (by human activity) planetary resource we have, is genetic/biological diversity. Whether heritage breeds of livestock, heirloom seeds, blue whales, subspecies of wolf, California condors,local variations of lizards or vast networks of fungi, these are the very building blocks of life (and life-sustaining systems) on Earth.

    Maybe the politicians who are so easily swayed/bribed by the business/extraction industry’s ‘logical’ arguments, can understand this language. Not one species is expendable, because to ensure a future for all of us, we need every emergency-back-up and fail-safe we have left. And those will be found in full, unfettered and undiminished interdependent natural systems and biological diversity.

    I welcome your thoughts.

  3. Dan Lynch Avatar
    Dan Lynch

    While it does not contain sage grouse (that I know of), I’d like to make Hell’s Canyon a national park from the dam to the confluence with the Salmon. It’s a truly remarkable area that the public is largely locked out of, other than expensive trips by boat for well heeled tourists. Instead it has become a private playground for millionaires and billionaires.

  4. Ralph Maughan Avatar
    Ralph Maughan

    I really like the idea of expanding national parks, but as “birdpond” says above the current politicians would stop it.

    I don’t think any conservation initiative of real importance can be done with the extremism of today’s Republican majority in Congress. They just may shut down the government because they are angry about a propaganda film made by right wing activists.

  5. Ida Lupines Avatar
    Ida Lupines

    Yes, I know that many would oppose this idea, but it’s still worth looking into, and worth trying.

    Here’s an example of the ‘national fear’ of monuments and parks from over the summer. It really is mystifying to me as to why preservation and future planning is more scary than the ‘use it all up and destroy now’ current planning methods. They will have no livelihood then either, and no hope for any in the future either, looking at it from strictly those terms, which is the big difference. I’m not sure what ultimately became of this, or if it is ongoing. The tone of it is amusing.

  6. snaildarter Avatar

    I think it is a great idea. I’d love to see a large grassland NP with all the mammals currently in YNP and no livestock but I thought Great Basin NP still allowed cattle?

  7. birdpond Avatar

    About biological diversity being our most important, yet most imperiled resource . . . Just found this – Short, to the point and totally right on – Just what I was saying (minus the politics)

    1. Ida Lupines Avatar
      Ida Lupines

      Well, so much for unprecedented cooperation… 🙁

  8. monty Avatar

    Nothing will happen as we are dealing with politicians who don’t believe in science, logic, facts or reality. Bill Mahre’s TV show, Real Time, on 9/25/2015 did an excellent job of “painting these fools.

  9. Tom Page Avatar
    Tom Page

    Just curious…is there data that compares sage grouse population dynamics in NPs vs NWRs vs public lands w varying uses? That would be an interesting thing to look at.

George Wuerthner is an ecologist and writer who has published 38 books on various topics related to environmental and natural history. He has visited over 400 designated wilderness areas and over 200 national park units.

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George Wuerthner