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Conservationists Conclude Wyoming Federal Sage Grouse Plan is “Wishy-washy,” “Inadequate”

December 26, 2013
Erik Molvar (307) 399-7910
In This Release
Climate + Energy, Wildlife

Thursday, December 26, 2013
Conservationists Conclude Wyoming Federal Sage Grouse Plan is “Wishy-washy,” “Inadequate”

The Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service today unveiled their Wyoming sage grouse plan amendment
Contact: Erik Molvar (307) 399-7910

Laramie, Wyo. – The Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service today unveiled their Wyoming sage grouse plan amendment, which conservationists immediately criticized as “wishy-washy” and “inadequate.” The proposed plan covers the Red Desert and upper Green River valley, two of the three remaining population strongholds for sage grouse nationwide.

“The Wyoming proposed amendments are so wishy-washy that they are a recipe for continuing the 50-year decline in sage grouse populations across the state,” said Erik Molvar, Wildlife Biologist with WildEarth Guardians. “If we lose the sage grouse in Wyoming, we cannot expect to prevent the extinction of this bird throughout the West.”

Discretionary language dominates the standards in the agencies’ Preferred Alternative, stating that industrial impacts known to be detrimental to sage grouse would be “avoided” rather than excluded or prevented, that science-based conservation measures would be “considered and encouraged” but not required, and applying protections “when possible,” “when practicable,” and “when necessary.” This type of language grants agencies broad latitude in deciding later whether sage grouse protection measures will be applied or waived when industrial projects are proposed inside lands identified in the plan amendment as Priority Habitats.

“Granting strong, mandatory protections to sage grouse Priority Habitats is not only the cornerstone to sage grouse recovery, but it will also benefit countless other wildlife species that depend on the same sagebrush habitats, from pronghorn antelope to pygmy rabbits,” said Molvar. “There is plenty of room on our public lands for sage grouse and commercial uses, but sage grouse protections need to take precedence over fossil fuel extraction inside the Priority Habitats established for grouse conservation.”

Energy development threatens sage grouse survival throughout Wyoming, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2010 finding that protecting the greater sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act was warranted, but precluded by other listing priorities.

The Preferred Alternative for the Wyoming Nine-Plan amendments prescribes strong protections from industrial use only within 0.6 miles of sage grouse leks, and would limit energy development to one site per square mile and 5% overall surface disturbance within Priority Habitats (averaging these limits across broad areas). By contrast, BLM sage grouse experts recommended in the National Technical Team report strong protections within 4 miles of leks, and limiting energy development to one site per square mile and no more than 3% surface disturbance for each square mile, rather than averaging these limits across broad areas. These science-based recommendations would be applied if the agencies adopt Alternatives B or C, but were left out of the agencies’ Preferred Alternative.

Western Watersheds Project had filed a lawsuit highlighting weaknesses in sage grouse protections for existing Wyoming plans, and as a result a federal judge ruled that current sage grouse management violated several federal laws for the Pinedale Resource Management Plan, with rulings pending on the other plans. These legal deficiencies were addressed in one of the alternatives that the agencies are not proposing to adopt.

“The largest single failure of this BLM proposal is the lack of adequate regulatory mechanisms for all human activities to ensure the survival of greater sage-grouse. As written this proposal is a recipe for sage grouse extinction,” said Jon Marvel, Executive Director of Western Watersheds Project. “Without specific annual measurable terms and conditions for livestock grazing in sage-grouse habitat and removal of livestock grazing from critical core habitat for sage-grouse, the extinction of this iconic western bird in Wyoming is assured.”

The greater sage grouse is under consideration for protection under the Endangered Species Act across its range, with a final listing decision due by September 2015.

“The agencies are considering two alternatives based on science, and two alternatives based on politics, and for now the Preferred Alternative ignores the science and instead it implements inadequate protections based on political compromise,” added Molvar. “It appears that the BLM is erring on the side of politics in this plan, but with an Endangered Species Act decision on the line, this is no time to err.”

More than half of the remaining worldwide population of greater sage grouse lives in Wyoming. Public lands covered by the plan include the BLM’s Pinedale, Rock Springs, Rawlins, Casper, and Newcastle Field Offices, as well as the Medicine Bow National Forest and Thunder Basin National Grassland. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the plan amendment is online at http://www.blm.gov/wy/st/en/programs/Planning/amendments/sage-grouse.html.

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