Sage-Grouse and Sagebrush Conservation
Once seen in great numbers across the West, greater sage-grouse have declined in number over the past century because of the loss of sagebrush habitats essential for their survival and are now candidate species for listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Greater sage-grouse habitat covers 165 million acres across 11 states in the West, a loss of 56% from the species’ historic range. At one time, the greater sage-grouse population likely numbered in the millions, but is estimated to have dwindled to 200,000 to 500,000 individuals range-wide.
As part of an unprecedented and proactive partnership to conserve the uniquely American habitat that supports iconic wildlife, outdoor recreation, ranching and other traditional land uses, the BLM, the U.S. Forest Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and the Natural Resources Conservation Service are working together to ensure the conservation of the west’s sagebrush habitats. We are also working closely with the States as we finalize our plans so all of our conservation efforts are closely coordinated. The States manage the bird itself, as well as significant amounts of its habitat.
The BLM, in cooperation with the Forest Service and its partners, has developed a series of Environmental Impact Statements (EISs) to incorporate greater sage-grouse conservation measures into the land use plans for the lands they manage. These EISs are now final. The EISs will undergo a 60-day Governor’s Consistency Review, followed by the Records of Decision finalizing the land use plans and land use plan amendments in late summer. These plans all anticipate ongoing relationships with our cooperators and partners in designing and implementing greater sage-grouse conservation actions. To learn more about the plans, read our Fact Sheet.
The EISs focus on conserving Priority Habitat areas that have been identified as having the highest value to maintaining the species and its habitat. Land use measures in Priority Habitat are designed to minimize or avoid habitat disturbance. Within Priority Habitat, specific areas have been identified as Sagebrush Focal Areas. The Sagebrush Focal Areas are important landscape blocks with high breeding population densities of sage-grouse and existing high quality sagebrush. The EISs also designate General Habitat Management Areas, which provide greater flexibility for land use activities.
The plans contain three common approaches:
Minimizing new or additional surface disturbance – The plans seek to reduce habitat fragmentation and protect intact habitat by implementing surface disturbance caps on development, minimizing surface occupancy from energy development, and identifying buffer distances around leks - areas critical to the sage-grouse life-cycle.
Improving habitat condition – While restoring lost sagebrush habitat can be difficult in the short term, it is often possible to enhance habitat quality through purposeful management. Where there are unavoidable impacts to habitat from development, the plans will require mitigation efforts to enhance and improve sage-grouse habitat.
Reduce threat of rangeland fire – Rangeland fire can lead to the conversion of previously healthy sagebrush habitat into non-native, cheatgrass-dominated landscapes. Experts have identified fire as one of the greatest threats to sagebrush habitat, particularly in the Great Basin region of Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Oregon and California. The plans seek to fight the spread of cheatgrass and other invasive species, position wildland fire management resources for more effective rangeland fire response, and accelerate the restoration of fire-impacted landscapes to native grasses and sagebrush.
Individual state plans contain variations where different approaches or priorities were consistent with overall conservation objectives. The plans honor all valid, existing rights, including those for oil and gas development, renewable energy, rights-of-way, locatable minerals, and other permitted projects.
We are confident that the proposed plans contained in the final EISs will not only benefit the greater sage-grouse, but will also preserve the West’s heritage of ranching and outdoor recreation; protect hundreds of wildlife species that also rely on sagebrush habitat, such as elk, mule deer and golden eagles; and promote balance between conservation and development.
Strong federal plans are one part of the equation. States, ranchers, sportsmen, energy developers and other partners are also implementing smart, effective conservation measures with the shared goal of ensuring the health of iconic sagebrush landscapes for years to come and reaching a ‘not warranted’ determination by the FWS. More than 1,100 ranchers and partners across the West have already worked with the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Sage Grouse Initiative to restore more than 4.4 million acres of habitat while maintaining working landscapes.