COMMERCE CITY, Colo.—Today, the Department of the Interior announced that Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections are not warranted for the Greater Sage-Grouse, an impeccably-camouflaged, robust bird that has danced its way into hearts across the American West even as its numbers have dropped from over 16 million to between 200,000 and 500,000. Currently, conservation plans for the sage-grouse include commitments from federal agencies like the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the Forest Service, state wildlife agencies and private landowners. Commitments range from the investment of nearly $500 million to protect and restore 4.4 million acres of habitat that sits on over 1,100 private properties to protections on 65 million acres of sage-grouse habitat on BLM land.
“This is a new lease on life for the Greater Sage-Grouse and the entire sagebrush ecosystem,” said National Audubon Society President and CEO David Yarnold (@david_yarnold). “Unprecedented cooperation by private landowners, states, and the federal government has created a framework for conservation at a scale unique in the world. Finding a shared path forward beats scaring all the stakeholders into their corners. Of course, now all of these stakeholders have to fulfill their commitments in order to make today’s decision stick.”
Faced with an endangered listing for the bird, stakeholders came to the table to develop a conservation strategy deemed strong enough by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to stave off ESA protections and keep the bird’s recovery dependent on the current plans.
“The Greater Sage-Grouse indicates the health of the entire sagebrush ecosystem and the Western way of life,” said Brian Rutledge, VP and Central Flyway policy advisor for Audubon. “During this process we have learned to not allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good, and we have arrived at a good plan for both people and wildlife.”
Audubon has worked with key state and federal officials to get to today’s historic announcement. From serving on the Wyoming Sage Grouse Implementation Team, which resulted in the state’s strategy of protecting core habitat becoming a model emulated across the rest of the bird’s range, to partnering with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), which helps private landowners implement sage-grouse protections on their property, Audubon has effectively demonstrated a commitment to protect and restore a long-undervalued ecosystem.
“We achieve more when we work together, and today’s decision not to list the Greater Sage-Grouse proves the power in partnerships," NRCS Chief Jason Weller said. “With the support of partners like the Audubon Society, we have been able to help ranchers implement conservation strategies that improve sagebrush ecosystems, reduce risks to sage-grouse and keep working lands for working. We’re grateful to Audubon for their contributions in this successful wildlife conservation effort and look forward to continued partnership to drive conservation on working lands.”
In addition to the decision on the sage-grouse and integral to its conservation, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell signed into the federal record of decision, 14 Regional Management Plans put forth by the BLM earlier this year. The plans represent a key part of the federal government’s role in sage-grouse recovery, and include approximately 65 million acres of sage-grouse habitat that sits on federally controlled land.
“With the BLM plans now officially in place, we finally have science-based regulatory assurance from the federal government in protecting 65 million acres of sage-grouse habitat on public lands,” said Rutledge. “Now that all major players have skin in the game, we can move forward to protect a landscape that’s home to not only this iconic bird but also 350 additional species of plants and animals—and people who have lived here for generations too.”
To learn more about this bird, its habitat and Audubon’s work on its conservation, please visit www.audubon.org/sage-grouse.
The National Audubon Society saves birds and their habitats throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education and on-the-ground conservation. Audubon's state programs, nature centers, chapters and partners have an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire and unite diverse communities in conservation action. Since 1905, Audubon's vision has been a world in which people and wildlife thrive. Audubon is a nonprofit conservation organization. Learn more at www.audubon.org and @audubonsociety.
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