The Greater Sage-Grouse, an iconic bird of the American West, is also a symbol for successful, cooperative, and bipartisan conservation efforts. After years of negotiations and unexpected partnerships, conservationists, ranchers, sportsmen, politicians, and industry representatives implemented habitat protections that successfully kept this bird off of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) list. By targeting protections only at the most important habitat identified by state and federal biologists and development in those areas with fewer environmental conflicts, the federal and state conservation plans allow for multiple uses from energy development to ranching to hunting and angling. This careful balance as well as the future of the Greater Sage-Grouse and its habitat, which supports more than 350 other species, is uncertain, however, and may be jeopardized by political leaders in the new Administration and Congress.
Over the past several years, Congressman Rob Bishop, Chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, has led the fight to not only to dismantle public land management plans but to further an extreme anti-public lands and anti-wildlife agenda. His legislation would override science-based standards for habitat management and ESA decisions for the sage-grouse. That approach will inevitably lead to an ESA listing for the Greater Sage-Grouse due to a lack of proper management, and put the 350 other species such as Golden Eagles, pronghorn, and mule deer that rely on this habitat at risk. Additionally, this approach would negatively impact the growing outdoor recreation economy that depends on healthy sagebrush ecosystems, jeopardizing thousands of jobs for hardworking Americans and over $1 billion in economic output each year.
The new Administration has also recently expressed interest in interfering with Greater Sage-Grouse conservation efforts. The New York Times recently reported that Vice President Mike Pence has been focused on “stripping protections for the sage grouse to ease development of lands in the West.” Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke also expressed ideas for revamping Greater Sage-Grouse conservation in a manner that would unravel years of these careful negotiations without consulting those who made this conservation achievement possible.
Audubon and our conservation partners welcome members of the new Administration to the table to engage all stakeholders in this important effort to maintain a landscape for the wildlife and people who depend on it. Instead of invalidating years of collaboration efforts to protect this habitat, Congress should encourage the Administration to work with stakeholders to ensure conservation is successful. Congress also must fully fund Greater Sage-Grouse conservation efforts and let Westerners and their federal partners continue setting the bar on cooperative conservation efforts.
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