"The Governor has embraced the recommendations of countless Wyoming citizens thoughtfully and respectfully in prescribing a management approach that simply makes sense," Rutledge said. "Now it's up to the Department of the Interior to follow the lead of the state and adopt management that protects sage grouse habitat along with the economic and quality of life benefits the land provides to all of us."
The Executive Order sets a strong precedent for the state's policy on how to protect Wyoming's populations of Greater Sage-grouse. The "Sage-grouse Core Area Plan" clearly delineates habitat areas that are critical to maintaining sage-grouse breeding populations. The order offers guidance to state agencies like the Department of State Lands on how to continue operating in a manner that conserves prime sage grouse habitat.
By carefully managing the development of this habitat, the State of Wyoming will have a far greater chance of maintaining this challenged species. It will be up to the BLM on whether or not to adopt the state's policy as its own during the next few months. If the agency decides to adopt the order's recommendations, it will need to reconsider its oil and gas stipulations for sage country and strengthen them considerably.
The unbroken sagebrush country that provides crucial habitat for the Greater Sage-grouse is one of the most awe-inspiring landscapes of the Rocky Mountain West. Places such as the Red Desert, the Upper Green River Valley and the Powder River Basin support the sage grouse and numerous other sage-dependent species such as pronghorn, the pygmy rabbit and the long-billed curlew. The energy boom now gripping Wyoming is exerting tremendous pressure on the sage grouse as well as the world-class hunting and recreation opportunities these same lands provide to citizens.
Says Rutledge, "This is a tremendous opportunity for the Bureau of Land Management to do the right thing and incorporate these habitat recommendations into their planning processes. We can have sage grouse and energy development, but we have to be careful how we do this. The time to act is now."
Currently 33 million acres of federal lands in Wyoming are open to mineral leasing and oil and gas development. Sage grouse "core areas" that provide key habitat to the species encompass approximately 10 million acres of federal lands. If the BLM and industry decide to seriously consider the recommendations of the State of Wyoming, development would still be allowed in these areas, but with effective mitigation requirements in place.
The Greater Sage-grouse once common throughout the American West has dwindled to a fraction of its former population. A decision for listing of the species under the Endangered Species Act is expected from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service some time this December.
Contact: Brian Rutledge, (970) 482-4719, Kevin Doherty, (307) 745-4848