CONSERVATION

Federal agencies and states must do more to conserve sage-grouse for the species to persist long-term. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Mountain-Prairie Region


























More than half of remaining sage-grouse range is managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service. In 2011, these agencies initiated an unprecedented planning process to update management plans covering 70 million acres of federal public lands in the West with new measures to conserve sage-grouse and their habitat. All land use decisions, from oil and gas development, to grazing, to wildlife conservation on these public lands are governed by these plans.

Conservation organizations are heavily engaged in this planning effort and working with decision makers to ensure sage-grouse and the Sagebrush Sea are conserved and restored. The federal government's failure to improve management of sagebrush habitats could result in sage-grouse being listed under the Endangered Species Act. 

Half of sage-grouse habitat has already been lost forever. The remainder is threatened by oil and gas drilling, livestock grazing, mining and off-road vehicle use, all of which damage sage-grouse breeding, nesting and winter habitat. Newly completed federal land use plans are key to protecting and restoring sage-grouse and hundreds of other species that depend on sagebrush grasslands on public lands. Wildlife advocates are encouraged to participate in the many opportunities to improve and implement these plans to achieve their conservation goals.

A SAGE-GROUSE CONSERVATION CHECKLIST


A successful sage-grouse conservation strategy will include, at a minimum, the following measures to protect and recover the bird. They are based on sage-grouse and sagebrush ecology, as well as key principles of conservation biology for managing habitat to conserve species. This checklist also addresses three sage-grouse habitat categories—“priority,” “restoration” and “general” habitat—that federal and state agencies have defined for sage-grouse planning purposes.

  1. Identify, designate and preserve priority habitat essential to sage-grouse conservation and restoration. The first rule for conserving imperiled species is to prevent continued loss and degradation of habitat essential for the species' persistence. This is especially important for sage-grouse, which are highly sensitive to disturbance, particularly in their breeding, nesting and brood-rearing habitat. Protecting winter habitat is also critical for sage-grouse conservation.
  2. Create and expand existing protected areas critical to sage-grouse and sagebrush conservation. Some proportion of remaining sage-grouse range is so important for conservation that it should be protected and specially managed as permanent reserves for sage-grouse and other sagebrush-dependent species. These can include new and expanded national wildlife refuges; Congressional designations, such as wilderness and national conservation areas; and administrative allocations, like areas of critical environmental concern. A reserve system should protect large expanses of sagebrush steppe, important seasonal habitats and connectivity, and the system should be large enough to achieve the goals of biological representation, and ecological redundancy and resiliency.
  3. Designate restoration habitat to focus restoration efforts. Restoration habitat is degraded or fragmented habitat that may not be currently occupied by sage-grouse, but might support the species if restored. Land managers should target passive and active habitat restoration efforts in these areas to extend current sage-grouse range and mitigate for future loss of priority habitat.
  4. Reduce and mitigate threats in sage-grouse general habitat. The goal for managing general habitat is to support habitat connectivity and increase sage-grouse populations within and outside of the other sage-grouse habitat designations.
  5. Develop adaptive management plans with science‐driven triggers that indicate when management is not leading to desired outcomes. Plans should institute adequate, consistent, objective-driven monitoring keyed to appropriate indicators that provide the information needed for adaptive management—and then require changes when current management fails to meet conservation objectives.


These simple, sensible precepts, if adopted and implemented across sage-grouse range, would provide a basis for sage-grouse restoration in the West.