More than 24,000 Audubon supporters recently submitted comments urging the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to protect sagebrush habitat and ensure a future for Greater Sage-Grouse. For over a decade, this iconic bird has been a political football, with Audubon members steadfastly speaking up in defense. The health of sage-grouse is deeply connected to its habitat, much of which is on Western public lands managed by the BLM. With recent reports of alarming population declines, Audubon is working with partner organizations across the country and calling for science-based management. BLM recently initiated a process to assess and update land management plans to support sage-grouse conservation. We expect to see the next step in the BLM’s process to be revealed in late 2022, with BLM presenting draft habitat management plans for public comment.
The National Audubon Society joined with several organizations to submit an additional comment letter that addresses specific technical and process concerns regarding the development of future management plans. You can read that letter here.
Below is a joint statement from Audubon and other conservation groups on the need for action to conserve the Greater Sage-Grouse.
Audubon Rockies * Colorado Wildlife Federation * Conservation Colorado * Idaho Wildlife Federation * Montana Audubon * Montana Wildlife Federation * National Audubon Society * National Wildlife Federation * Natural Resources Defense Council * Nevada Wildlife Federation * The Nature Conservancy * Wild Montana * Wyoming Outdoor Council
WASHINGTON — Conservation groups urged the Bureau of Land Management to use the best available science to conserve sagebrush habitat in the American West to stabilize and increase Greater sage-grouse populations. The organizations were responding to the agency’s notice of intent to amend land use plans regarding sage-grouse conservation. The comment period for that scoping period ended February 8.
Sage-grouse are an indicator species, whose health reflects the overall condition of the sagebrush steppe. A functioning sagebrush country provides clean drinking water for Western communities, sequesters carbon, reduces wildfire intervals, and is home to more than 350 species of plants and wildlife of conservation concern.
Sage-grouse populations and sagebrush habitat have been in decline for more than five decades. A 2021 report by the U.S. Geological Survey found that sage-grouse populations have declined across the West by more than 80% since 1965, including a 37% decline since 2002. This report came on the heels of another report released by USGS highlighting the loss and degradation of lands in the sagebrush ecosystem. This new information makes review of federal land management plans imperative.
In 2015, a bipartisan group of Western governors, ranchers, industry leaders, and conservationists developed a framework of land management plans to conserve sage-grouse and its habitat, aimed at preventing a listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Those plans were never given a chance to be fully implemented. Meanwhile, sage-grouse have continued to lose habitat due to fires fueled by invasive species and fragmentation from industrial and residential development.
The organizations listed above call on the administration to work with all interested stakeholders to realize healthy public lands that will benefit Western communities, the American public, and wildlife for generations to come. To achieve these goals, the Bureau of Land Management should consider the best available science and sound landscape-scale conservation measures as part of its plan review to reverse long-term downward trends of Greater sage-grouse populations and habitats so that a listing under the ESA is unnecessary.