Press Room

“A Grave Setback:” US Forest Service Releases Weak Versions of Sagebrush Conservation Plans

Forest Service lands that include important habitat for Greater Sage-Grouse and 350 other species of wildlife now at increased risk of further development.

FORT COLLINS, Colo.— Today, the U.S. Forest Service proposed final versions of its land-management plans for the sagebrush ecosystem nearly two years after beginning the process to rewrite a historic 2015 agreement on sage-grouse conservation as part of an approach that elevates short-term development interests above all others.

“What earned its place as the most hopeful conservation success story in American history has suffered yet another grave setback that threatens not only the Greater Sage-Grouse but also the entire sagebrush ecosystem,” said Brian Rutledge, director of Audubon’s Sagebrush Ecosystem Initiative.

“Driven by short-term development interests, Washington insiders have discarded a science-driven approach to managing public lands. These are special places all parties agree are most important to protect. The Trump Administration decided to put years of hard work, compromise and hope for a healthy sagebrush country at risk.

“The Forest Service’s proposed plan amendments are another step on this misguided path. While they show that common sense tools like compensatory mitigation can and should be maintained, they still remove important protections and will not stop the onslaught of leasing and drilling that continues to threaten the survival of the sage-grouse, as shown in our recent report. Audubon has been part of this process from the very beginning, and we intend to double down with our partners to build a sustainable future for this landscape and the birds and people who depend on it.  The Department of the Interior has not heard the last of us yet.”

Strong Support from Westerners for Sage-Grouse Protections

Overwhelming majorities of Westerners have asked the Secretary of the Interior to honor the 2015 agreement, which is the greatest example of landscape conservation in American history. Since Secretary Ryan Zinke first decided to revisit the BLM and Forest Service plans, more than 40 thousand Americans, including approximately 15 thousand Audubon members and supporters, submitted comments to Interior opposing modifications of the agreement. 

In a poll conducted earlier this year by Colorado College, nearly two-thirds of voters from Western states expressed opposition to changing the sage-grouse conservation plans.

Scientific Concerns with Zinke Approach to Sage-Grouse

In June 2018, more than twenty scientists sent a letter to Secretary Zinke outlining concerns with the proposed changes made final today. The scientists concluded, “failure to take into account large-scale dynamics when managing sage-grouse will likely lead to an overall loss of habitat quantity and quality resulting in population declines.”

Background on Landmark 2015 Sage-Grouse Agreement

In 2015, Western states, federal agencies, energy executives, ranchers, sportsmen, scientists and other stakeholders came together to celebrate collective commitments to sage-grouse conservation, securing a “not warranted” finding with regard to Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections. A finding now more uncertain after today’s decision.

More than 350 other species of wildlife, including many other species of birds, 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, the state bird of many Western states including Montana, Oregon, North Dakota and Wyoming.

To learn more about Audubon’s 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.  Audubon works throughout the Americas using, science, advocacy, education and on-the-ground conservation.  State programs, nature centers, chapters, and partners give Audubon an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire, and unite diverse communities in conservation action.  A nonprofit conservation organization since 1905, Audubon believes in a world in which people and wildlife thrive.Learn more at www.audubon.org and @audubonsociety.

Contact: Nicolas Gonzalez, ngonzalez@audubon.org, (212) 979-3068.

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