Statewide Sage Grouse Efforts Enough To Keep Species Off Endangered List

Sep 22, 2015

The greater sage grouse, a bird whose range spans 11 western states, including Colorado, will not be listed under the Endangered Species Act. Sally Jewell, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, announced the decision in a video released on Twitter.

Jewell cited the efforts of land-owners and government in states like Colorado and Wyoming, who have invested proactively in plans to protect the sagebrush landscape, which she said was suffering from “death by a thousand cuts.”

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has concluded that these collective efforts add up to a bright future for the sage grouse,” said Jewell.

In recent years, energy companies, ranchers, hunters and bird lovers have come together to develop large-scale plans to protect the bird. An endangered species listing could cost states millions of dollars in lost revenue from activities like energy development and ranching, which would be limited if the bird was considered endangered.

A map of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service priority areas for greater sage grouse conservation.
Credit U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Jewell’s announcement was greeted with cheers from larger, more middle-of-the road environmental groups like the Wilderness Society and Audubon. They highlighted the 11-state plans to protect the bird’s habitat.

“When Americans work together, we know we can both protect our wild landscapes and continue to responsibly work the land,” said Jamie Williams, Wilderness Society president, in a statement. “Guided by sound science and honed through local on-the-ground knowledge, these plans strike a smart balance.”

Jeers came from greens further out on the spectrum, notably from Jamie Rappaport Clark, former director of the Fish and Wildlife Service under President Clinton and now head of the group Defenders of Wildlife.

“We commend the administration’s unprecedented and epic land use planning process covering millions of acres of public lands throughout the American West, but the final plans fall short of what is necessary to eliminate known threats to the greater sage-grouse,” Rappaport Clark said in a statement.

Colorado congressman Jared Polis (D) said the decision showed the positive outcome of collaborative efforts.

"The fact that this announcement was made in Colorado speaks volumes about the ability of our state to bridge the partisan divide and overcome Washington dysfunction for the best interests of all involved – ranchers, grazers, landowners, and conservationists alike," Polis said in a statement.

Senator Cory Gardner (R), also praised the work to keep the bird from becoming endangered.

"Greater sage-grouse populations are increasing, and I commend the collaborative efforts from stakeholders to keep this bird from being listed," he said in a statement.

A recent study showed the bird’s populations are rebounding. Estimates put bird numbers above 400,000 across the West. That’s still a far cry from the sky-darkening millions of the early 1900s, but biologists with the Fish and Wildlife Service were encouraged by the apparent recovery of male birds in breeding grounds.

The Gunnison sage grouse, a species found only in Colorado, was listed as endangered in late 2014.