On Tuesday, the Department of the Interior announced that the sage grouse does not require protection under the Endangered Species Act. DOI said that, “Over the past five years, an unprecedented, science-based land conservation effort across the west has taken place to protect the sagebrush landscape and reduce the threats to the sage grouse’s habitat.”
(Photo courtesy Department of the Interior)
University of Idaho scientists said the decision validates the collaborative approaches taken by many agencies.
“Conserving sage grouse is a complex challenge that requires the collective efforts of land managers, scientists and all those who enjoy the vast sagebrush ecosystems. This announcement is a tribute to the hard work and dedication of many people,” said Karen Launchbaugh, professor in the UI College of Natural Resources and director of the UI Rangeland Center, said in a statement.
The Rangeland Center has been working to help ranchers understand the relationships between grazing and sage grouse habitat.
Courtney Conway, professor in the UI College of Natural Resources and director of the USGS Idaho Cooperative Fish & Wildlife Research Unit, and is one of several scientists at UI involved in sage-grouse research.
“The listing decision was made possible due to the hard work and collaboration of landowners and our agency partners, but many of the threats that have caused sage grouse declines still exist,” Conway said in a statement. “We still have our work cut out for us to ensure that sage grouse populations don’t decline further and that high-quality habitat persists for future generations.”
Idaho’s two United States senators said they were skeptical of the decision.
“While a ‘not warranted’ decision is better than a listing determination under the Endangered Species Act, the Department of Interior’s reliance on heavy-handed land-use management plans to arrive at this decision is unacceptable,” Senator Mike Crapo said in a statement. “The Department ignored much of what the Idaho Sage Grouse Task Force recommended and, instead, opted to move forward with top-down federal lands-use management plans. While the agency cited collaboration as the basis for its decision, the move to abandon the state’s planning process that adequately addressed true threats to the bird–namely the impact of wildfires and invasive species on sagebrush habitat–will ultimately lead to greater uncertainty for sage grouse populations in the future.”
Senator Jim Risch said, “While I am pleased Secretary Jewell has acknowledged the greater sage-grouse population is on the rebound, I am concerned the regulations generated by the Department of the Interior to reach this decision will do little to continue the recent population rebound in Idaho.
“We had pressed DOI early on to rely on a locally-driven, collaborative process to conserve the sage-grouse, but this process changed when it came to Washington, D.C. The two main threats to the greater sage-grouse in Idaho are fire and invasive species. The Secretary adopts a plan that relies heavily on regulation of the mining, oil, and gas industries when it should focus more heavily on fire control. Today’s announcement serves as political cover for another top-down mandate that will not be the best prescription for sage-grouse in Idaho.”
Posted September 23, 2015