FORT COLLINS, Colo. — Despite hundreds of thousands of Westerners expressing support for existing Greater Sage-Grouse conservation plans, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke continued to pursue the Trump Administration’s intention to reopen the process, injecting uncertainty across ten Western states and putting the largest intact ecosystem remaining in the United States at risk of further fragmentation.
“An entire ecosystem and way of life is at stake if Secretary Zinke insists on rewriting carefully calibrated conservation plans to give preferential treatment to oil and gas companies,” said Brian Rutledge, vice president and director of Audubon’s Sagebrush Ecosystem Initiative.
“Turning conservation plans on their head to achieve an energy dominance agenda is the worst example of backroom, Washington politics. Secretary Zinke risks ignoring the overwhelming majorities of Western voters who want balanced plans,” added Rutledge.
“The best way forward for both the sage-grouse and Western communities is to implement and improve upon the conservation plans we already have, which are the result of years of bipartisan collaboration.”
Earlier this year, Colorado College’s annual Conservation in the West poll showed that double-digit majorities of those surveyed support keeping the plans that were created three years ago.
In 2015, Western states, federal agencies, energy executives, ranchers, sportsmen, scientists and other stakeholders came together to celebrate that collective commitments to sage-grouse conservation were so strong that there was no need for Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections.
The final plans were supported by Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval, Montana Governor Steve Bullock and Wyoming Governor Matt Mead, representing both major parties and significant portions of the sage-grouse’s 165-million acre sagebrush habitat.
By working together, this partnership designed a path forward that provided enough flexibility for all stakeholders to pursue their livelihoods and traditions while also securing enough firm conservation commitments to protect the sage-grouse. This important bird is an indicator species for the health of the sagebrush steppe ecosystem it and more than 350 other species of wildlife depend on.
Many other species of birds and wildlife depend on a healthy sagebrush ecosystem. For example, Burrowing Owls often make their homes underground in abandoned prairie dog dens. Sage Thrashers can be heard singing atop sagebrush plants during breeding season as can the brightly-colored Western Meadowlark.
Western states’ fish and game experts agree that sage-grouse habitat protection is the best way forward. Scientists fear a focus on bird numbers alone and unproven methods to meet them like captive breeding would be doomed to fail, putting the sage-grouse at risk of further decline.
Of particular concern is Interior’s claim to have received only 81,000 public comments. This figure vastly undercounts the number of comments submitted according to internal accounting conducted by organizations. More than 267,000 comments in support of the 2015 sage-grouse conservation plans were submitted to the BLM during the comment period. An additional 130,000 comments in support of the plans were submitted to the US Forest Service, which is also considering dangerous changes to sage-grouse management plans.
To learn more about the unprecedented efforts to protect the Greater Sage-Grouse and the places it calls home, please visit www.audubon.org/sage-grouse.
The National Audubon Society protects birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow, 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.
Contact: Nicolas Gonzalez, firstname.lastname@example.org, (212) 979-3100.