Changes to Sage Grouse Guidelines in Wyoming Welcomed by TRCP and NAGP

Changes to Sage Grouse Guidelines in Wyoming Welcomed by TRCP and NAGP
BLM decision to expand development buffers in northern Wyoming should help conserve populations of popular game bird

Theodore Roosevelt Conservation

WASHINGTON – The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and North American Grouse Partnership today commended an Interior Board of Land Appeals ruling supporting a decision by the Buffalo, Wyoming, Bureau of Land Management to expand protection around greater sage grouse mating areas (“leks”) from 2 miles to 3 miles. The action should contribute to conservation of the species, currently being considered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for listing under the Endangered Species Act.

The BLM decision was challenged by energy companies citing that the expanded sage grouse protections are unwarranted and not based on science. Yet recent studies have revealed that current BLM protections, which generally limit human activities within two miles of leks between March and July and between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m., are wholly inadequate for sage grouse and other prairie grouse. Some BLM offices recently acknowledged that sage grouse need more protection during public-lands energy development and are trying to implement changes.

Leks form the center of activity for native prairie grouse species, including sage grouse, and provide habitat critical to grouse survival. Research has demonstrated that most of the birds' nesting activity occurs within three miles of a lek.

“We are heartened by these revised grouse protections, which are based on new information and current science,” said NAGP Executive Director Ralph Rogers, “and we are encouraged by the IBLA ruling affirming both the adequacy of this science and the BLM's authority to adapt protections during energy development, even after leases are sold, to conserve sage grouse.

“Without the involvement of public land managers such as the Buffalo BLM,” Rogers continued, “grouse have a tough road ahead. And although these new guidelines apply only to lands administered by the Buffalo office, the IBLA ruling has broader applicability to all grouse habitat. We hope that all BLM and Forest Service offices will adopt better protective actions for grouse species found on our federal public lands.”

Millions of sage grouse and other native grouse once populated the Great Plains and shrub steppes of the western United States. An essential food source of pioneers traveling west, they also inspire Native American “fancy dances” and are revered in certain Native cultures. North American grouse species are prized by sportsmen and birders and are an icon of healthy lands.

“Sportsmen are gratified that the BLM is exercising its management authority by implementing better guidelines to conserve grouse during public-lands energy development,” said Dr. Terry Z. Riley, TRCP vice president for policy and grouse expert. “The TRCP welcomes the IBLA ruling and hopes that similar actions will be taken to regulate energy development in important grouse habitat across the Rocky Mountain West.

“We often hear that the federal government can do nothing for wildlife once energy leases are issued,” stated Riley. “The IBLA ruling renders that argument moot.”

“As America gains experience managing energy extraction on our public lands, we are learning how to tread the delicate line between removing resources and upholding our natural heritage,” said Willard Heck, NAGP board chair. “The NAGP commends the federal government for its recent action in support of sage grouse and relies on its continued support and coordination of further research to better understand how to sustain healthy grouse populations.

“The NAGP recognizes the importance of resource extraction to the nation but asks that it be pursued in consideration of our grouse and outdoor pursuits,” concluded Heck. “The IBLA affirmed that the Buffalo BLM used good judgment in changing grouse management based on science and multiple-use principles. These actions can satisfy the public's desire for balanced management of our country's energy resources and hunting and fishing traditions.”

The TRCP believes that to better balance the concerns of fish and wildlife in the face of accelerating energy development, federal land management agencies must follow conservation tenets outlined in the FACTS for Fish and Wildlife. The NAGP led development of A Grassland Conservation Plan for Prairie Grouse, which outlines grouse management for future generations.

North American Grouse Partnership

The NAGP works to promote the conservation of grouse and the habitats necessary for their survival and reproduction.

Inspired by the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt, the TRCP is a coalition of organizations and grassroots partners working together to preserve the traditions of hunting and fishing.

Media Contact: Steve Belinda (307) 231-3128, sbelinda@trcp.org Ralph Rogers (406) 350-5487, nafanew@ttc-cmc.net

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