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Defenders Report: Federal Conservation Plans Would Fail to Conserve Greater Sage-grouse

Analysis of draft plans released under National Greater Sage-grouse Planning Strategy finds inadequate conservation measures for sage-grouse

WASHINGTON (March 11, 2014) – Defenders of Wildlife released a report today finding that draft plans developed under the federal National Greater Sage-grouse Planning Strategy would not conserve sage-grouse. Ranging over ten western states, greater sage-grouse have experienced both significant habitat loss and long-term population declines. In 2010 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined the bird warranted protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and other agencies initiated the planning strategy to implement new land use and management plans on 60 million acres of public land to support sage-grouse recovery before the Fish and Wildlife Service makes its formal listing decision in 2015. BLM has now released over the past year 15 separate, inconsistent and inadequate draft land management plans and land use plan amendments for sage grouse, covering 15 different BLM planning areas across the West. The new report released by Defenders of Wildlife is based upon a thorough analysis and comparison of those plans.

The following is a statement by Mark Salvo, Director of Federal Lands Conservation for Defenders of Wildlife:

“There is a lot at stake with this planning process. Unfortunately, the BLM is falling short of what it set out to do, ignoring what even its own scientists recommend for sage-grouse conservation on our public lands. Sagebrush grasslands are one of the least protected landscapes in the country and the decline in sage-grouse populations are an indicator of our mismanagement of these habitats.

“When laid side by side, the 15 draft plans propose inadequate and inconsistent conservation strategies for sage-grouse, sometimes treating the same population of grouse very differently depending on which side of a planning unit boundary the grouse happen to reside. If the BLM’s planning process continues on its current course, greater sage-grouse populations will continue to deteriorate – something no one wants to see.

“A lot of hard work has been invested in developing a successful management scheme for sage-grouse. The BLM still has the chance to adopt final plans—not these inadequate proposals—that will conserve and restore sage-grouse and transform how vast areas of our public lands are managed.”


Sage-grouse are an iconic western species that once ranged across 297 million acres in North America and numbered as many as 16 million birds. Today, sage-grouse range has been reduced by 44 percent and populations have experienced long-term declines. Sage-grouse require large expanses of healthy sagebrush steppe, an increasingly rare habitat in the West. Millions of acres of the Sagebrush Sea have been lost to agriculture and development over the past 200 years. What remains is fragmented and degraded by poorly managed oil and gas drilling, livestock grazing, min­ing, unnatural fire, invasive weeds, off-road vehicles, roads, fences, pipe­lines and utility corridors.

The Report

Federal law requires agencies to use the best available science in management planning. Greater sage-grouse have been closely studied and reams of published research and government and scientific reports are available on the species. Defenders reviewed these sources to identify 15 key conservation measures—most of them recommended by the BLM itself—for conserving and restoring sage-grouse and their habitat. The draft plans were then evaluated based on whether or not they adopted these key conservation measures.

Defenders’ analysis found that the proposed actions in the draft plans would fail to conserve and restore sage-grouse and their habitat, according to the government’s own recommendations and best available science. Notably, while Defenders found that the draft plans analyzed key conservation measures for sage-grouse, they still proposed weaker alternatives to manage the species.

One measure that the BLM utterly failed to implement is designating new reserves for sage-grouse protection – the plans would designate less than one percent of sage-grouse habitat as reserves.

Defenders’ findings clearly show that the BLM is off-course, but the analysis of key conservation measures in the plans provides the agencies with a path forward in the planning process. The BLM does not need to scrap its work and further delay planning and, ultimately, conservation of sage-grouse. The final plans can pull together the best conservation elements in the draft plans, and build on them based on the recommendations in Defenders' report to implement a range-wide conservation strategy that will conserve and restore sage-grouse and transform how our public lands are managed.



Defenders Report - In the Red: How Conservation Plans Fail to Protect Greater Sage-grouse

Quick Look (PDF) - Sage-grouse Conservation Plan Analysis Overview

Reporter Resources

Contact: Courtney Sexton, 202-772-0253, csexton@defenders.org

Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1.1 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit www.defenders.org and follow us on Twitter @DefendersNews.