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How to save the sage grouse?

ridenbaugh Northwest

A conservation staffer examines sage grouse policy and writes that “Following science is the way to maintain greater sage-grouse.” The writer is Steve Holmer, senior policy advisor for American Bird Conservancy and works to conserve endangered species and wildlife habitat on western federal lands.

The Obama administration’s largest proposed land and species conservation initiative – protecting the Greater Sage Grouse – appears to be falling short of promises based on early returns. And while these current federal approaches could do an about face that could ultimately prove successful, that seems unlikely given the analysis just released by conservation groups that is based on the government’s own scientific expert’s recommendations.

The Scorecard for Greater Sage-Grouse Conservation is a checklist of standards to conserve the Greater Sage-Grouse and its habitat that can be used to determine if proposed management plans are effective and based on the best available science. It is available online.

The Scorecard’s standards are the government’s recommendations contained in the National Technical Team report. If followed, the Scorecard is a recipe for conserving grouse habitat, and providing the “adequate regulatory mechanisms” federal agencies need to implement in order to avoid an Endangered Species Act listing of Greater Sage-Grouse as a threatened species next year.

The Scorecard was used to evaluate the Bureau of Land Management’s Lander Resource Management Plan. This is the first completed management plan that addresses the conservation of the Greater Sage-Grouse in a critically important sagebrush habitat in Wyoming.

The review finds that the Lander plan fails to meet most of the conservation measures recommended in the NTT report, and based on the best available science is not likely to ensure that conservation measures will be effective in conserving the sage grouse. Because the Lander plan does not pass muster, if the other fourteen management plans follow this Wyoming model, the sage-grouse will likely continue to decline, warranting the species’ protection under the Endangered Species Act.

While the Lander plan did not designate sage-grouse reserves as recommended in the Scorecard, it did designate an extensive 481,000 acre National Trails Management Corridor to preserve historic and scenic trails that also provides some of the conservation standards known to benefit grouse. The Lander plan highlights the need for stronger standards and the potential for designating protected areas in the remaining fourteen resource management plans still to be released.

For the Obama administration, these remaining plans are a golden opportunity to advance public land conservation, provide balance in the face of a stampede of development hitting the region, and leave future generations of Americans a legacy of wide-open spaces that harbor abundant wildlife.

Unfortunately, the Scorecard’s Lander review reveals that unless the Obama administration changes course and starts following the best available science, we are headed for continuing controversy as a result of ineffective management plans, declining grouse populations, and ESA listings.

Fortunately, the Scorecard also provides policymakers the formula needed to change that and to conserve grouse habitat. What we need now is a demonstration of the leadership necessary to make that change happen.

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