Defenders offers recommendations for sage-grouse conservation

Photo: C. Robert Smith Elk Meadow ImagesNational Geographic Stock

Defenders submitted comments today to the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service highlighting important issues as the agencies undertake to revise their land use plans to conserve and recover the greater sage-grouse. A few key points from our comments:

  • A scientific panel selected by the BLM outlined conservation measures that are an important starting point for this process in the 2011 ‘Report on National Greater Sage-Grouse Conservation Measures’These conservation measures should be put into practice to the fullest extent possible throughout the greater sage-grouse range.
  • The agencies indicate that they plan to use “adaptive management”. In order to do so effectively, we urge them to develop a scientifically legitimate adaptive management strategy that commits to reduce uncertainty and improve conservation through the use of ecologically grounded quantitative triggers rather than simply providing the agencies with flexibility and discretion that result in “trial and error” management.
  • BLM and the Forest Service should not assume that as long as “some” regulatory mechanisms are put in place, they will be adequate to avoid listing under the ESA.  There are other factors that will go into a decision whether to list the greater sage-grouse, and these two agencies represent only part of the picture.  Instead, they should approach this process understanding that listing could still occur, and use this analysis and planning to both try to avoid listing and to be better prepared if listing is unavoidable.
  • A targeted multispecies approach is more efficient than a narrow single-species approach; by looking at what other wildlife species can benefit from sagebrush ecosystem conservation, the agencies take advantage of the opportunity at hand, and gain additional benefits from work already being done.
  • The agencies should develop a mitigation framework and policies that achieve a measurable “net conservation benefit” standard.  It is necessary that any development within the sage-grouse range leave the bird better off than it was – holding steady at the status quo will not be enough to recover the species.
  • The Forest Service should play a key role.  They operate under wildlife protection regulations and policies that are unique from those that govern the BLM.  They must meet all of their existing statutory, regulatory and policy obligations in this conservation and decision making process.  In addition, the Forest Service must strive to embrace emerging conservation policy goals found in the new National Forest Management Act planning regulations.
  • We encourage BLM and FS to fully consider the risks caused by renewable energy development to sage-grouse and the sagebrush steppe ecosystem and to err on the side of caution in the development of new management standards and conservation measures.

You can read our full comments here.

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dotWild is the blog of scientists and policy experts at Defenders of Wildlife, a national, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities.