Partners Help Conserve the Greater Sage Grouse’s Home on the Range
Greater Sage Grouse. Credit: Stephen Ting / USFWS
The Greater sage-grouse is a large landscape species found in 11 western states and two Canadian provinces (Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, South Dakota, and North Dakota, Alberta and Saskatchewan).
One of the most interesting aspects about the Greater sage-grouse is its nearly complete reliance on sagebrush throughout much of its lifecycle. Many factors including energy development, wildfires, and invasive plant species have contributed to the loss and fragmentation of the sage-grouse’s primary habitat. Being a sagebrush obligate species, the bottom line is that Greater sage-grouse cannot survive in areas where sagebrush no longer exists.
The Greater sage-grouse was designated as a candidate species in 2010 after the Service determined that protection under the Endangered Species Act was warranted but that listing would be delayed while we addressed other listings of higher priority. This finding was a call to action.
Because the Greater sage-grouse requires large expanses of sagebrush, addressing the ongoing threats to the species and its habitat would require the collective conservation efforts of the Service, the states, other federal agencies, and local communities.
Concern about long-term declines in Greater sage-grouse populations was raised by state fish and game agencies more than a decade ago. In response, the Service joined with the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA), representing all of the Western state wildlife agencies, in 2006 to develop the Greater Sage-Grouse Comprehensive Conservation Strategy. The release of this strategy marked a true turning point, enabling a shift from conservation planning to conservation implementation incorporating adaptive management principles to inform and guide future management practices.
In addition to the overall conservation strategy, every state within the range of this species has, or is developing their own state management plan to address localized issues with long-term solutions.
An example, the state of Wyoming has developed the Wyoming sage-grouse core area conservation strategy. This important strategy is designed to ensure a population objective of maintaining up to 85 percent of the breeding sage-grouse in the state.
Since most of the Greater sage-grouse habitat is on Federal lands, the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service are also working with the states to address sage-grouse conservation on federally-managed lands.
The Bureau of Land Management is aggressively addressing management for Greater sage-grouse with the modification of 98 area plans, and the Forest Service has adopted a similar approach by modifying 21 national forest management plans to conserve key habitats.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service with its long history of working with farmers and ranchers is providing incentives for these landowners to conserve sage-grouse on private lands. To date the agency has invested more than $100 million on private land conservation for the benefit of sage-grouse, while maintaining the viability of large ranching operations.
Tribal participation in overall sage-grouse planning efforts has been significant. Some sage-grouse conservation plans have been developed and some are under development. Many tribes with sage-grouse resources are participating in local and state conservation efforts. We are also re-visiting our management options on National Refuge lands to ensure we are contributing to long-term conservation of this species.
The WAFWA, State Partners, Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service, Tribal entities, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Farm Services Agency have cemented a true partnership that has begun to produce results for the sage-grouse. The added bonus is that if we do a good job of managing for the Greater sage-grouse, 150-200 other species that occupy the same habitat will also thrive.
As Dr. David Naugle of the University of Montana and National Resources Conservation Service has said, there will never be a Brewer’s sparrow initiative but there doesn’t have to be because we have the sage-grouse. If we do well by the sage-grouse than the Brewer’s sparrow, and other sagebrush obligates will benefit from our conservation efforts.
USFWS Mountain-Prairie Region