The importance of the greater sage-grouse cannot be overstated: The bird is an indicator species for the health of the sagebrush-steppe ecosystem that covers much of the interior West, across an area that also supports mule deer, pronghorn, and hundreds of other wildlife and plant species.
Greater sage-grouse populations have plummeted in recent decades owing to degradation of habitat, and The Pew Charitable Trusts is calling on the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management–the largest land manager of sage-grouse habitat—to address the declines by issuing science-based land use plans that balance conservation with development.
Unfortunately, in the first of its final plans released today, the agency falls short of providing adequate protections for the bird and its habitat. The Lander Resource Management Plan is the first of 15 the BLM is preparing to guide management of sage-grouse habitat across 10 western states.
“Although the land use portion of this plan provides protections for some key areas such as historic trails, this decision is a mixed- bag for the Lander region and in particular sage-dependent species such as sage-grouse,” said Ken Rait, a director of Pew’s U.S. public lands project. “The sage-grouse portion of the Lander plan falls short by allowing oil and gas development and other activities too close to important sage-grouse habitat.”
The Lander plan will guide the stewardship of 2.5 million acres of public land in central Wyoming, 99 percent of which is considered greater sage-grouse habitat. The final plan will leave more than 90 percent, or about 2.25 million acres, open to oil and gas leasing and does not set aside areas for sage-grouse habitat, which is a fundamental aspect of successful conservation.
Specifically, the Lander plan allows oil and gas development within 0.6 miles of the bird’s mating grounds, a setback that is inconsistent with the best available science and weaker than most other state sage-grouse draft plans that were released in 2013. The Lander plan also allows for new major electric transmission lines in core sage-grouse habitat, which is inconsistent with BLM’s own recommendations.
“The Lander plan is a missed opportunity to protect some of the best habitat in the range and to make a more significant contribution to conserving the species,” said Rait. “Despite this, we are hopeful that BLM will use the best available science to balance development activities with conservation for the remaining 14 plans.”
The BLM controls approximately half of the remaining greater sage-grouse habitat. This effort is the largest single-species planning endeavor in the agency’s history. Pew has been instrumental in advocating for greater sage-grouse conservation.