Editorial Pages Favor Federal Court Ruling, Condemn Bush Administration's
"Not Warranted" Listing Decision for Greater Sage-Grouse.
The New York Times
wrote that '[i]n the case of the sage grouse, the Fish and Wildlife
Service appears to have done a better job serving industry than the
public or the grouse." The Oregonian
waxed poetically that the Sagebrush Sea and attendant human communities
"are places that husband the soul of the American West. They
deserve better from their government than lies." And the Baker
hopes that "President Bush understands, in the wake of the sage
grouse debacle, how ridiculous it is to try to rein in scientists
who work for federal agencies by assigning as their boss a politically
reliable, but scientifically ignorant, figurehead."
Court Overturns Bush Administration's "Not Warranted" Listing
Decision for Greater Sage-Grouse
A federal court reversed and remanded the Fish and Wildlife Service's
12-month "not warranted" listing decision issued in 2005.
Industry Front Group Misrepresents Wyoming Governor's Position on
Energy Development. Former Bush Administration official
Jim Sims has launched
yet another industry front group to advocate for increased energy
development in the West. However, in promoting the new organization,
Americans for American Energy, Sims mispresented Governor Freudenthal's
views on energy development by suggesting that the governor supported
AAE's positions on controversial energy development projects in Wyoming.
Governor Freudenthal responded quickly and forcefully to AAE's blunder
by withdrawing his support for AAE and "ending
any relationship between the State of Wyoming and AAE."
Sims also directs the Western Business Roundtable, which wines and
dines and lobbies politicians to prioritize energy development in
and Partnership for the West, which opposes protecting
greater and Gunnison sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act.
Energy Industry Spokesman Falsifies Sage-grouse, Energy Development
Facts. Dave Galt, Executive Director of the Montana Petroleum
Association, falsely claimed
in a guest editorial that a federal court denied listing for greater
sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act
and that conservation organizations, "not satisfied with the
court's decision, ...have been filing frivolous lawsuits, costing
taxpayers millions." No federal court has ruled on any listing
decision for greater sage-grouse. It
was the Bush Administration, servant of big oil and gas, that denied
listing for sage-grouse in 2005. There is also evidence that former
Deputy Assistant Secretary Julie MacDonald and other political appointees
manipulated the listing process to deny protection to sage-grouse.
Mr. Galt also claimed in a previous opinion-editorial that sage-grouse
numbers in developed oil and gas fields "mirror the population
trends seen in undeveloped areas" and that the state of Montana
has increased the bag limit for sage-grouse.
Both statements are untrue. Research
submitted for publication this summer confirms previous findings that
sage-grouse populations in coalbed methane development fields suffer
signficant negative impacts from gas development compared to sage-grouse
in undeveloped areas. And, while the
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Parks Commission had raised the bag
limit for sage grouse to four, it recently reduced it to two.
BLM to Consider Sage-grouse Research in Powder River Basin Energy
Development. The BLM has (finally!) announced that it will
account for the latest
studies indicating that oil
and gas development harms sage-grouse in new development projects
in the Powder River Basin.
The BLM Wyoming state director stated that BLM's "goal is to
maintain viable sage grouse populations in Wyoming while continuing
to allow oil and natural gas development on public lands and the public
mineral estate." The problem is, the latest research indicates
that very little, if any, oil and gas extraction is compatible with
sage-grouse conservation. Furthermore, the BLM has not proposed to
prohibit energy development in sage-grouse habitat, but merely
incorporate the latest scientific findings in associated NEPA documents
and, in some cases, delay processing some development permits that
may affect "high quality sage-grouse habitat areas." News/Media
2 , 2007
Energy Companies Offer Trade: Mitigation for Less Regulation. Some
energy companies are annoyed by even the most minor area and seasonal
restrictions on natural gas development on public lands (e.g., no
drilling within 2-miles of sage-grouse leks in spring). Three energy
companies have now offered a sort of bribe to BLM to allow year-round
drilling in sensitive wildlife habitat in Wyoming in exchange for
$36 million dollars to mitigate for development by improving
habitat elsewhere. The problem with such a proposal is that there
are key habitats and migration corridors that cannot be replaced through
mitigation. As these areas are developed, wildlife populations will
Coyotes May Help Maintain Sage-Grouse Populations. New
research by Mezquida et al. (2006) indicates that coyotes may indirectly
benefit sage-grouse by preying on mid-level predators (foxes, badgers,
ravens, etc.) that prey on sage-grouse eggs and chicks.
This finding is contrary to the traditional and widely held belief
that coyote control (i.e., killing coyotes) increases sage-grouse
productivity. Indeed, the authors report that killing coyotes allows
jackrabbit populations to increase, which may then lead to an increase
in golden eagles, which are an important predator of adult sage-grouse.
Robertson of the Center for Native Ecosystems has written of the significance
of this new research.
DOI Inspector General Confirms Political Interference in Greater Sage-grouse,
Other ESA Listing Decisions
The U.S. Department of Interior
(DOI) Office of Inspector General (IG) has published a report of its
investigation of Julie MacDonald, a political appointee who serves
as DOI Deputy Assistant Secretary of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
The IG's report confirms media accounts and evidence in the public
record that MacDonald "has been heavily involved with editing, commenting
on, and reshaping … scientific reports" (IG Report, p. 2) used by
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Endangered Species Program
in Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing decisions. The Sagebrush Sea
Campaign and partners have previously reported that MacDonald interfered
in FWS listing decisions for greater
and Gunnison sage-grouse.
The IG also found that MacDonald violated federal regulations by providing
nonpublic information concerning species listings and critical habitat
to industry lobbyists and other private individuals. The New
and Washington Post
reported on the IG's findings this week.
The IG interviewed DOI and FWS officials who described MacDonald as
"angry" (p. 5), intimidating (p. 6), "demeaning" (p. 8), "disrespectful,
rude, and unprofessional" (p. 12), a "pain in the butt" (p. 6) and
an "attack dog" (p. 15). While her management style by itself may
not warrant investigation (these attributes could simply describe
a determined political appointee zealously carrying out her orders
from the Bush Administration), the IG also discovered that MacDonald
"did not want to accept petitions to list species as endangered" (p.
4), "did not want to designate critical habitats" (p. 4), involved
herself at the field level (p. 4), "would not accept the field's scientific
findings" (p. 5), and "would apply science from alternative sources"
(p. 5), claiming these outside sources to be "the best science," and
then "insist [that] field employees revise their findings to fit what
she wanted" (p. 5). One official noted that the cumulative effect
of MacDonald's involvement in species listing decisions "was to minimize
the Endangered Species Act as much as possible or ensnare it in court
litigation, which happened often" (p. 5).
The greater sage-grouse listing decision was among the first to attract
MacDonald's attention after she joined DOI in 2002. The IG report
offers new details about MacDonald's involvement in the FWS determination.
MacDonald extensively edited a Sage
Grouse Risk Analysis (p. 4) (and
later admitted that some of her edits were unsupported by science
and flatly rejected analysis by three FWS regional offices that western
states' plans to conserve sage-grouse did not meet minimum standards
for conserving an imperiled species. An official familiar with MacDonald's
involvement with the issue reported that "once MacDonald was informed,
she claimed that FWS came up with the wrong conclusions and instructed
them to go back and do the review again" (p. 12). He termed MacDonald's
behavior as "the most brazen case of political meddling" he had seen
(p. 12). Another DOI official allied with MacDonald admitted to their
interference in FWS decisionmaking and was quoted saying that "FWS
has received inadequate supervision (relating to Sage Grouse and [Policy
for Evaluation for Conservation Efforts] policy) and that it's time
for us to start 'meddling' in their work" (p. 12).
7 , 2007
Sagebrush Listed Among Most Threatened Bird Habitats in U.S. The
American Bird Conservancy has ranked sagebrush third among the twenty
most threatened bird habitats in the United States. The ABC report
identifies livestock grazing, invasive species and fire as continuing
threats to sagebrush steppe (pp. 42-43). ABC.
"Top 20 Most Threatened Bird Habitats in the United States"
Bush Administration Proposes "Healthy Lands Initiative."
FY 2008 budget proposes to spend $15 million on a "Healthy Lands
Initiative" (HLI) to restore abused landscapes managed by BLM,
including sagebrush steppe.
The Administration admits that
one goal of the initiative is to prevent the listing of greater sage-grouse
under the ESA.
But the Administration's proposal, if approved by Congress, would
not restore near enough habitat to prevent the further decline of
sage grouse in the West, particularly since livestock
grazing, oil and gas extraction,
off-road vehicle use
and other harmful activities will continue on public lands. For example,
the HLI would commit $1.9
million to the "Oregon-Idaho-Nevada Shrub-Steppe Restoration
Partnership" (OINSSRP) that would "treat" up to 23,000
acres of public land for flamable invasive species (cheatgrass) --
in a project area that encompasses 37,170,276 acres of BLM land.
Weeds spread at a rate of 4,600 acres
per day on public lands, meaning that all efforts to restore 23,000
acres under the OINSSRP could be negated by continued weed invasion
in ten days. The federal government recognized this dilemma eight
years ago with the formation of the Great
Basin Restoration Initiative (GBRI) -- but Congress never appropriated
funds to the GBRI to begin addressing the catastrophic grazing-weeds-fire
cycle that exists today in the Great Basin. Other HLI projects are
proposed for southeast Idaho
the Green River Basin in Wyoming
and in southwestern Colorado
home of the Gunnison sage-grouse.
Secretary unveils 'Healthy Lands' Initiative"
the Sage Grouse Can Save the West" The title of
the cover story in the January 2007 Audubon magazine.
7 , 2005
Sage Grouse Denied Protection under the Endangered Species Act. The
U.S. Department of the Interior announced today that, despite strong
scientific evidence that the greater sage grouse may be facing extinction,
it will not protect the western icon under the Endangered Species
2 , 2005
York Times urges protection for the Sagebrush Sea. Author
Peter Kaminsky calls for "preserving the majesty" of the
poetically named Sagebrush Sea. News/Media
FWS Analysis Indicates Sage Grouse Decision Tainted by Politics
Fish and Wildlife Service Recommends Against Protecting Sage Grouse.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has recommended that
the Bush Administration deny protection to the greater sage grouse
under the Endangered Species Act. News
grouse listed on Canadian endangered species list.
The sage grouse is extirpated from British Columbia; very small remnant
populations still persist in the grasslands of southeast Alberta and
southwest Saskatchewan. News/Media
Sep. 9, 2004
New report documents
sagebrush species decline. The
Oregon Natural Desert Association
has released a new report by the High Desert Ecological Research
Institute that documents widespread declines in a suite of Sagebrush
Sea species. News
report, titled "Shrubsteppe Landscapes in Jeopardy: Distributions,
Abundances, and the Uncertain Future of Birds and Small Mammals
in the Intermountain West," confirms conservationist's fears
that the sagebrush steppe ecosystem is in such poor health that
it cannot sustain native species. News/Media
Dr. David Dobkin of HDERI summarized the report: "based on
the information presented in our report, we find no basis for optimism
about the future prospects in the Intermountain West of any of the
61 species we examined. Sagebrush
Steppe Species Report
The sage grouse is an indicator species
for the Sagebrush Sea and an umbrella species for many of the wildlife
listed in the shrub-steppe report. We have sent a copy of the report
to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remind agency decisionmakers
that, while deciding whether to list the sage grouse under the Endangered
Species Act, the purpose of the ESA is to
"provide a means whereby the ecosystems upon which endangered
species and threatened species depend may be conserved." Listing
the sage grouse would benefit a suite of other species that live
in the Sagebrush Sea.
Aug. 9, 2004
organizations and drillers agree to protect sage grouse from energy
development. As a recent
agreement between conservation organizations and an energy company
concerning coalbed methane development in the Thunder Basin Grasslands
proves, the technology exists to reduce impacts from CBM development
on sage grouse and other wildlife, if only the will exists
in energy developers to use the technology. Casper
Star Tribune editorial
Oil and Gas Association (COGA) organizes greater sage grouse coalition.
The Rocky Mountain Oil Journal (RMOJ) has announced a new effort
spearheaded by COGA through the Partnership for the West to oppose
sage grouse listing. Partners include the Petroleum Association
of Wyoming, Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States,
Independent Petroleum Association of America, New Mexico Oil and
Gas Association, the American Farm Bureau, and other groups "concerned
about the devastating economic impact of a listing decision."
COGA has identified a budget of $300,000 to oppose listing.
The RMOJ story stated "hunting and outdoor recreation groups
are starting to understand the severe impact such a decision would
have on these industries and on tourism in general." The suggestion
that sage grouse listing would degrade recreational opportunities
is misleading as protecting sage grouse would necessarily require
preservation of vast areas of sagebrush habitat on public lands
enjoyed by westerners for fishing, hiking, hunting, camping, wildlife
watching, picnicking, photography, bicycling, and beer drinking.
These activities are much more enjoyable in the absence of
thousands of acres of oil and gas development.
We thank COGA and RMOJ for using "sagebrush sea" to describe
the subject ecosystem, a term adopted by conservationists to describe
this incredible landscape.
July 31, 2004
organizations submit comments on positive 90-day finding on petition
to list greater sage grouse. Fifteen
conservation organizations joined comments drafted by American Land's
Sagebrush Sea Project updating the administrative record on threats
from energy development, West Nile virus, and public lands livestock
grazing to sage grouse. 90-Day
The Wilderness Society also submitted comments. TWS
90-Day Finding Comments
Coalbed methane development may spread West
Nile virus. The CBM extraction
process requires removal of large quantities of groundwater to liberate
the methane trapped underneath. The extraction process produces
approximately 15,000 gallons of wastewater per day, per well, depleting
underground aquifers. Because the pumped water is usually loaded
with dissolved solids and sodium (and numerous other pollutants),
it is often stored in surface holding ponds for indefinite periods,
rather than flushed down local streams. These holding ponds (and
other naturally occurring and human-made surface waters, such as
agricultural irrigation and livestock waters) may serve as breeding
habitat for insect vectors that transmit WNV.
The affects of WNV on sage grouse, and the
potential contributions of CBM development to the spread of the
disease, are not new information to BLM. Documents recently obtained
from Wyoming BLM (which the agency resisted providing to requesters)
indicate that BLM has known of the strong connection between WNV
and CBM. One document stated that, [i]n short, we have more
mosquitos (an order of magnitude greater) in CBM than control sites
and >90% of all mosquitoes regardless of capture site are Culex
genus (the vector of interest). A second document by several
of the authors of the Naugle,
et al. study
noted that hen survival on the CBM site (15%) was dramatically
lower than that on control sites (62%), primarily due to an outbreak
of West Nile Virus restricted to the CBM site." See
WNV will likely continue to spread and threaten
grouse across their range as there is broad overlap between known
oil and gas reserves and sage grouse habitat in the Intermountain
West. In Wyoming, 26,000,000 acres (66.7 percent) of the states
remaining sage grouse habitat falls within areas of potential oil/gas
development; 9,000,000 acres (28.1%) of Colorados sage grouse
habitat falls within areas of potential oil/gas development; 3,000,000
acres (43.5%) in Utah; and 1,700,000 acres (16.2%) in Montana. See
"West Nile virus: pending
crisis for sage grouse." Dr.
David Naugle, et al., has confirmed sage grouse advocates' worst
fears that West Nile virus is killing sage grouse in Montana, Wyoming
and elsewhere, and that the bird has no known immunity to the disease.
According to Dr. Naugle and his coauthors, "the spread of WNv
represents a significant new stressor on sage-grouse and probably
other at-risk species. While managing habitat might lessen its impact
on sage-grouse populations, WNv has left wildlife and public health
officials scrambling to address surface water and vector control
issues in western North America." West
Nile virus study
July 23, 2004
of the Interior Norton grouses about sage grouse.
Over the past several months Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton
has publicly worried about the potential impacts of listing sage grouse
under the Endangered Species Act on economic interests in the West.
The Albuquerque Tribune subsequently
rebuked Secretary Norton for fretting about potential lost profits
for Big Energy when the grouse is facing possible extinction.
The Secretary even hinted that
the species would not be listed if western states could prove that
they could protect the grouse without federal intervention.
We have since submitted comments that the Secretary's statements were
without merit or legal standing, as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
cannot avoid listing the grouse in favor of unproven (and in some
cases nonexistent) state and local conservation plans. 90-Day
July 6, 2004
Albuquerque Tribune: "Stop grousing,
Norton, about protecting bird."
The Albuquerque Tribune admonished Secretary of the Interior
Norton for demagoging the sage grouse as the spotted owl of the
desert. "The Rio Grande has its silvery minnow. The Pacific
Northwest has its spotted owl. And now the Western prairie - including
New Mexico - might have its sage grouse. * * * Imagine, the Bush
administration might have to go against all those well-to-do special
energy interests, those it has been so good at protecting, to preserve
a bird in danger of going the way of the passenger pigeon and other
once plentiful birds. Namely, extinction."
||Secretary of the Interior Gale
Norton on sage grouse listing: Some
say the grouse could become the spotted owl of the intermountain West.
But the sage grouse occupies nearly 12 times as much land as the northern
spotted owl. Source
releases sage grouse/sagebrush habitat assessment. The
Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies has released a 700-page
report assessing the present status of sage grouse populations and
sagebrush habitat. Although the authors suggest that declining grouse
populations have leveled or increased in a few areas in recent years
[Dr. Clait Braun, an expert in sage grouse ecology, questions evidence
that populations have increased anywhere Braun's
the WAFWA report otherwise affirms conservationists' claims in our
sage grouse petition submitted last December. The
28 authors and contributors to the WAFWA assessment found little to
be hopeful about: we are not optimistic about the future of
sage-grouse because of long-term population declines coupled with
continued loss and degradation of habitat and other factors.
Partnership for the West's anti- sage grouse
listing strategy exposed! Conservationists
have discovered and publicized a memorandum drafted by the so-called
"Partnership for the West" mapping the organization's
strategy to pressure responsible officials to not list sage grouse
under the ESA. The memo describes various tactics to muddy the listing
process, such as "unleash(ing) grass-roots opposition to a
listing, thus providing some cover to the political leadership at
(the Interior Department) and throughout the administration";
engaging "political leaders in the West and in Congress to
lobby the administration against listing"; and "engag(ing)
with USFWS regional directors (on listing). ... If they do not readily
engage, back channel with DOI officials." News/Media
The Partnership for the West's must limit
its anti-listing strategy to back channel political pressure and
other such dubious tactics because they can't argue that the sage
grouse doesn't deserve ESA protection on scientific grounds. Fortunately,
the Fish and Wildlife Service is prohibited from considering political
advice and alleged economic impacts when determining whether a species
should be listed under the ESA. We are nonetheless concerned
that agency decisionmakers will be affected by the political pressure
that PW intends to level at them.
His strategy exposed, Partnership for the
West executive director Jim Sims became defensive and struck back
at conservationists in media reports, implying that they came about
his memo via their own dubious methods. In fact, the memo
was posted on the Partnership's website. That's where
we got our copy.
Apr. 15, 2004
Fish and Wildlife Service announces positive 90-day finding on petition
to list greater sage grouse under ESA.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced that it will publish
a positive 90-day finding on the petition to protect the greater sage
grouse under the Endangered Species Act. The agency noted "substantial
biological information" in the petition, indicating that the
sage grouse may indeed deserve Endangered Species Act protection.
||BLM Director Kathleen
Clarke on sage grouse listing: There's
probably nothing that could happen on Western lands that would change
the way we use those lands more than the listing of the sage grouse.
Industry front-group forms to oppose sage
grouse listing, other purposes.
A new organization called "Partnership for the West" has
been established in recent months with the mission to weaken the
Endangered Species Act, and prevent species
such as sage grouse from being listed under the ESA.
Former Bush Administration official Jim
Sims is executive director of the Partnership for the West.
He previously served as Director of Communications for Vice President
Cheney's secret National
Energy Policy Development Group, which
conceived of the current national energy policy that is ravaging
western public lands. (Sims is/was also executive director of
the Western Business Roundtable and a member of the Board of Directors
of the Center for the New West and Center for the New American Century,
both conservative think tanks.)
The Partnership for the West claims to represent
a broad range of interests, including energy developers, miners,
loggers, ranchers, off-road vehicle users, "freedom advocates"
and others, but a quick review of their membership list exposes
PW as primarily an energy industry front group (which is not surprising
given director Sims background). This begs the question: as
energy developers are shoving ranchers and their livestock aside
to develop the publicly-owned Sagebrush Sea, how does PW reconcile
conflicting interests of its purported membership (energy developers
||Salt Lake Tribune
supports listing sage grouse under ESA. News/Media
submit petition to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list greater
sage grouse submitted under ESA.
Twenty-one conservation organizations, including the Sierra Club,
submitted a petition to the Fish and Wildlife Service today to list
the Greater Sage Grouse as threatened or endangered
under the Endangered Species Act. [News
sage-grouse mating ritual is fascinating to observe, and often described
as among the most stirring and colorful natural history pageants in
the West. In early spring, at dawn and often at dusk, males congregate
on "leks" -- ancestral strutting grounds to which the birds
return year after year. Leks vary in size from one to forty acres
and may be up to fifty miles from wintering areas. To attract a hen,
cocks strut, fan their tail feathers and swell their breasts to reveal
bright yellow air sacs. The combination of wing movements and inflating
and deflating air sacs make an utterly unique "swish-swish-coo-oopoink!"
An indicator species for the sagebrush biome, sage-grouse have inhabited
the western United States and southern Canada since the Pleistocene
epoch. Described by Lewis and
Clark in 1806, nineteenth century travelers and settlers reported
huge flocks of sage-grouse that darkened the sky.
The historic range of sage-grouse closely conformed to the distribution
of sagebrush in what became thirteen western states and three Canadian
provinces. But since 1900 sage-grouse populations have declined. The
grouse no longer occur in British Columbia, Arizona and Nebraska.
Over the past 20 years, sage-grouse populations have been reduced
as much as 45-80 percent across the remainder of their range due to
habitat destruction, degradation and fragmentation. The current sage-grouse
population may represent only about seven percent of historic numbers.
Human activities in the Sagebrush Sea have decimated sage-grouse populations
in the past decades. Livestock grazing, agricultural conversion, application
of herbicides and pesticides, unnatural fire, oil and gas development,
urban sprawl, mining, off-road vehicle use, and the placement and
construction of utility corridors, roads and fences have fragmented,
degraded and eliminated sage grouse habitat throughout its range.
Sage-grouse are also hunted in most states where they occur.