As 11 Western states anxiously await the end of September, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will decide whether to list the range-wide population of greater sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), good news has emerged from Nevada and California. Today, the agency determined that a smaller population of the majestic western gamebird isolated to these two states was not warranted for listing under the ESA, indicating that, with concerted conservation efforts, a federal listing may be avoided.
The decision comes after months of proactively planning a combination of regulatory and voluntary measures on federal, state, and private land to assure the birds’ future. “Today’s decision is great news for this population of sage-grouse and all the stakeholders who rolled up their sleeves and demonstrated that the states can work with the federal government to achieve a positive outcome,” says Miles Moretti, president and CEO of the Mule Deer Foundation. “We’re poised to get the same result for the remaining populations of sage-grouse, if we stay the course and don’t back away from strong conservation efforts that will benefit allsagebrush-dependent species.”
The Service must decide whether to list the broader, range-wide population by September 30, 2015. Sagebrush ecosystems that support sage-grouse are also critically important to more than 350 species of plants and animals, including mule deer, pronghorns, and elk.
“The same regulatory assurances and proactive voluntary measures that have helped prevent the listing of this bi-state population are exactly what we need in the rest of the sage-grouse’s range,” says Steve Williams, president of the Wildlife Management Institute and former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Ultimately, the decision to list the range-wide population will end up in a federal court, and unless the state and BLM plans and assurances can be defended by the Service, a judge may rule that the sage-grouse must be listed,” Williams adds.
Nearly half of the nation’s remaining sagebrush habitat lies on federal public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management, and conservation measures in that agency’s new resource management plans will likely carry a lot of weight in the September 2015 decision. Private and state lands, however, are also vital to the birds’ future, and the ESA listing decision will hinge on strong state conservation plans.
“Governors simply cannot take their foot off the gas now,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the TRCP. “They must finalize solid plans for their states and support federal plans in order to avoid a listing later this fall. We need their leadership to embrace change, conservation, and a newly defined future for sagebrush ecosystems.”
Policy makers in Washington enacted a rider in the recently passed budget bill stating that FWS cannot “write or issue” listing rules for four grouse species, and new bills are being developed to propose delaying a listing decision by 6 to 10 years. “Politicians seeking to drag out the September 2015 deadline for listing greater sage-grouse were sent a strong message today—putting in the hard work now will pay off in the long run,” says Fosburgh. “The necessary assurances for state and federal plans don’t require 6 to 10 years to result in a positive outcome. By buckling down, stakeholders in California and Nevada have shown us a path forward for the rest of the western states.”
2 Responses to “Big decision for a small gamebird”
The Best Available Science does not support your arguments above. Despite all the money, government-industry collaboration and political grandstanding – How’s the bird doing? Not so good – See Garton et al 2015 – abstract pasted below.
Greater Sage-Grouse Population Dynamics and Probability of Persistence
Final Report to Pew Charitable Trusts 18 March 2015
Edward O. Garton, Adam G. Wells, Jeremy A. Baumgardt and John W. Connelly
Abstract. We updated our earlier comprehensive analysis of Greater Sage-Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) population dynamics and probability of persistence from 1965 to 2007 throughout the species range by accumulating and analyzing additional counts of males from 2008 to 2013. A total of 89,749 counts were conducted by biologists and volunteers at 10,060 leks from 1965 through 2013 in 11 states occupied by Greater Sage-Grouse. In spite of survey effort increasing substantially (12.6%) between 2007 and 2013, the reconstructed estimate for minimum number of breeding males in the population, using standard approximations for missing values from
Colorado, fell by 56% from109,990 breeding males in 2007 to 48,641 breeding males in 2013. The best model of annual rates of change of populations estimated across the Sage-Grouse Management Zones was a stochastic density dependent Gompertz model with 1-year time lags and declining carrying capacities through time. Weighted mean estimates of carrying capacity for the minimum number of males counted at leks for the entire range-wide distribution, excepting Colorado, were 40,505 (SE 6,444) in 2013 declining to 19,517 (SE 3,269) in 30 years and 8,154 (SE 1,704) in 100 years. Starting with the estimated abundance of males counted at leks in 2007 a simple effort to evaluate the validity of future forecasts of abundance was conducted by forecasting abundance in 2013 from Gompertz density dependent models with 1-year time lag and declining carrying capacity models of 6 of the 7 management zone populations. Estimated mean abundance in 2013 predicted 97.8% of the variation in true abundance in management zones. Concerted efforts across both public and private land ownerships that are intended to benefit Greater Sage-Grouse show little current evidence of success but more will be required to stabilize these declining populations and ensure their continued persistence in the face of ongoing development and habitat modification in the broad sagebrush region of western North America.
Emeritus Professor, University of Idaho, Moscow; 2 Washington State University, Vancouver; 3 Texas A&M
University, Kingsville; 4 Retired Research Scientist, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Blackfoot
I celebrated this decision here in Idaho with a “show me” trip to a sage grouse lek with the endangered species coordinator for the Idaho Department of Lands. Then the next day with a field trip review of juniper control projects past and current and proposed followed by a meeting of the Owyhee County Local Working group made up of State and Federal agency employees, ranchers, hunters, conservation groups etc.. Where we discussed this decision and heard reports of this years sage grouse lek surveys which in general showed numbers up 30% on average. We had good nesting success in 2014. The Garton report cited above used 2013 data which is appearing to be a low point of the cycle in our part of Idaho, N Nevada and E. Oregon where west nile had a significant impact on our Sage Grouse populations. I think that Kristyn’s article is dead on and that the some of the best “current”, 2014, and 2015 not 2013, science does support that our efforts and habitat conservation and restoration is working and we can not stop now. Our most effective efforts on private land and state lands has been to restore and expand wet meadow brood rearing habitat which has been severely impacted by years of fire control that was somewhat wrong minded and let junipers move down out to their rocky high strongholds to invade meadows. The current dry cycle has shown the critical need for these areas for brood rearing during the hot summer and early fall months. Thanks for the update Kristyn.