Rather than weaken the sage-grouse plans, the Trump administration should consider ways to improve them. Experts have identified opportunities to strengthen conservation and management of the species based on the best available scientific information.

  1. Conserve all of the most important sage-grouse habitat. In addition to breeding, nesting and brood-rearing habitat, preserving sage-grouse wintering areas is particularly important for maintaining local populations. The current plans should be improved to protect all seasonal habitats from harmful land use and development.
  2. Connect sage-grouse habitats. Federal agencies developed fifteen regional plans to cover the sage-grouse’s eleven-state range, but didn’t stitch them together into a matrix that can provide for the species across federal and state jurisdictions. The new planning process is an opportunity to connect sage-grouse habitat cores across boundaries.
  3. Protect sagebrush reserves. It is important, particularly in light of climate change, that land managers set aside areas both where sage-grouse are now and where they will need to go in the future; the current conservation plans should be revised to formally designate reserve areas.
  4. Reduce manageable impacts in sage-grouse habitat. Some threats to sage-grouse are difficult to manage, such as wildfire and invasive species. The federal conservation strategy should compensate for those effects by emphasizing management of land uses that we can control, such as livestock grazing, which contributes to unnatural fire and the spread of invasive species.
  5. Restore degraded sage-grouse habitat. Sage-grouse have already lost nearly half their range to agriculture and development. The federal sage-grouse conservation strategy should be updated to support active restoration of areas that can still be used by sage-grouse and other wildlife.

Federal agencies and states should 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 administered by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service. In 2015, these agencies completed an unprecedented planning process to update management plans covering more than 60 million acres 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.

The Trump administration is now threatening to undo the federal sage-grouse plans, to the dismay of hundreds of stakeholders who collaborated for years to develop them. Weakening current conservation measures could have major consequences beyond just sage-grouse; other wildlife, watersheds, sagebrush grasslands and the western communities and economies that depend on them all stand to lose.

Half of sage-grouse habitat has already been lost forever. The remainder is threatened by oil and gas drilling, livestock grazing, mining, transmission, off-road vehicle use and other factors. Recently completed federal land use plan amendments 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 defend against the Trump administration's efforts to weaken and eliminate key conservation measures in these plans.