Washington—With the Interior Department weighing possible changes to management of greater sage-grouse habitat in the American West, The Pew Charitable Trusts said today that the existing management plans for those vast areas should be given time to work. Pew added that major changes to the plans are unnecessary and that any modifications must be grounded in science. A public comment period closes today.
The existing management plans took effect in 2015 after a decade of public input, negotiations, and compromise among a wide range of stakeholders. These plans were based on the best available science and balanced energy development, recreation, grazing, and other activities on more than 50 million acres of public lands across the West. At the direction of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, the agency began soliciting public comments in October to potentially revise the sage-grouse management plans.
Ken Rait, director of Pew’s U.S. public lands conservation project, issued the following statement:
“The sage-grouse management plans now in place reflect a sensible compromise among stakeholders that balances conservation and the needs of local communities. Major changes to these plans that would allow increased development would almost certainly threaten habitat for the grouse and for mule deer, pronghorn, elk, and hundreds of other species and would cause significant uncertainties for Westerners who are adapting their land use strategies based on these plans.
“In August, a Bureau of Land Management task force that reviewed the 2015 plans recognized that they are flexible and allow for responsible energy development consistent with Trump administration priorities while maintaining conservation of important habitat.
“Although Pew strongly supports the 2015 plans and sees no need for significant changes, there may be merit to making minor refinements, clarifications, or additions to strengthen the plans. Any modifications, however, must be based on current and credible science.
“Sage-grouse populations have plummeted by more than 90 percent over the past century, and almost half of the American West’s sagebrush habitat has been lost to development, agriculture, wildfires, and exotic plant invasion. This bird is considered an indicator species for the health of the sage-steppe ecosystem and the 350 species that depend on it, and scientists have raised alarm at the prospect of upending the 2015 habitat management plans. In an Oct. 13 letter to the Trump administration, 17 leading sage-grouse scientific experts expressed concern that changes to the plans, including recommendations that promote increased development of oil and gas reserves, would drive further declines in both the amount and quality of sage-grouse habitat, ‘which in turn may result in additional population declines.’
“Pew urges the administration to continue to balance the needs of conservation, recreation, and development and to retain the science-based compromises tailored to individual states that are embodied in the 2015 management plans.
“The sage steppe and the grouse are among the natural areas and species that make America unique, and once they are gone, we cannot get them back. By sticking with the 2015 plans and giving them a chance to work, the Interior Department can protect these vital lands, both for the wildlife that depend on them and for future generations of Americans.”
The Pew Charitable Trusts is driven by the power of knowledge to solve today’s most challenging problems. Learn more at pewtrusts.org.