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Motion Filed to Defend Bi-state Sage Grouse From Off-roaders’ Lawsuit
The Sierra Trail Dogs hold a 250-mile dirt bike rally through some of the best remaining sage-grouse habitat in the Mono Basin region. They object to shifting the event from June to July to comply with protections the Forest Service added after it reviewed new scientific information about the birds’ habitat requirements. Conservation groups say the additional protective measures are critical to the survival of the species.
“The restrictions that the Forest Service put in place are needed to prevent the extinction of the bi-state sage-grouse,” said Steve Holmer of the American Bird Conservancy. “The lawsuit is quibbling about six extra weeks of closure and an extra mile of buffer that protects the bird during breeding season. This was part of a settlement negotiation concerning the continued existence of a highly imperiled species, and we are fighting to uphold the agreement and protect this habitat.”
The bi-state sage-grouse of the Mono Basin on the California-Nevada border are genetically isolated from the larger population of greater sage grouse and are designated a “distinct population segment.” Sage-grouse will abandon nesting habitats and breeding grounds, known as “leks,” if they are disturbed. Human activities like livestock grazing, development and off-road vehicle use stress the birds and could negatively impact important breeding periods.
“The Forest Service did the right thing by strengthening sage-grouse protections under the Humboldt-Toiyabe plan,” said Taylor Jones, endangered species advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “We want to defend the grouse and the Forest Service from the selfish interests of a user group that is showing a prominent lack of respect for the native wildlife.”
In response to science brought forward by conservationists during the planning process, the Forest Service expanded lek buffers to four miles and expanded seasonal moratoriums on off-road vehicle contests to include the entire breeding and nesting period.
“These conservation measures are essential to the survival of these beautiful birds,” said Patrick Donnelly, Nevada state director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Bi-state sage grouse are teetering on the brink of extinction across much of their range. Sage grouse are crucial to our precious Great Basin ecosystems and the hundreds of plants and animals that depend on them. We’ll do everything we can to protect them.”
“All but one bi-state sage-grouse population management units have been declining, and the Pine Nut Mountains population has been crashing in the last two years. Running a motorcycle race through this imperiled bird’s habitat during the lekking season would only add to threats that are pushing this population over the cliff,” said Laura Cunningham, California director for Western Watersheds Project.
The groups that filed today’s motion to intervene in the lawsuit are the American Bird Conservancy, the Center for Biological Diversity, Western Watersheds Project and WildEarth Guardians. They are represented by Mills Legal Clinic at Stanford Law School.