By September 30 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must decide whether to list the Greater Sage-Grouse under the Endangered Species Act. The bird, whose sagebrush habitat spans 11 western states, has been under consideration since 2010, due to rampant habitat loss and fragmentation. The listing threat has sparked unparalleled, landscape-scale conservation efforts to try to preclude that outcome: New state and federal plans have been created to protect core grouse habitat on public lands, and landowners have voluntarily stepped up to restore private property, largely through the Sage Grouse Initiative, a public–private partnership launched by the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. Since 2010, SGI stakeholders have invested $424.5 million to conserve 4.4 million acres on property held by more than 1,100 landowners. In exchange for adopting binding, federally approved plans to protect the grouse, landowners will be exempted from additional regulatory requirements should it be listed later (see the hours of labor that have gone toward these efforts below). Will these steps keep the iconic bird off the list? The clock’s ticking.
By the Numbers
44 Percent drop in sage-grouse range, from 297 million acres pre-settlement to 165 million acres today
<500,000 Number of birds today, down from millions more than a century ago
32 Percent of core grouse habitat on private lands (public land is 62% federal, 6% state)
60 Percent reduction in conventional drilling in Wyoming’s priority habitat since 2010, when the state implemented a management plan that allows no more than 5% development in core grouse areas (other states have since adopted similar plans)
1,600 Percent increase in Wyoming during that same period in directional drilling, which allows companies to access deposits from the side, thus protecting sensitive lands above.
35 Millions of federally controlled acres of priority habitat with restrictions meant to prevent habitat degradation under new Bureau of Land Management plans
20 Number of years the BLM plans will be in effect
623 Millions of dollars spent by hunters, campers, and other recreational users of BLM sagebrush lands in 2013
363 Number of sagebrush-dependent plant and animal species that benefit from grouse conservation
If the Greater Sage-Grouse is listed, federal restrictions could lock up tens of millions of acres, potentially costing the region billions of dollars in lost tax revenues and economic activity from development and recreation. If the bird isn’t listed, restoration work is far from over—massive conservation efforts will have to continue to protect the bird and its habitat in order to prevent a future listing.