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Ed Arnett

September 15, 2021

Some Deflating Sage Grouse Status Updates and What Can Be Done for Habitat

State wildlife agencies are reflecting on the spring lek count totals, while a national advocacy effort could help private landowners create more grouse habitat

During the recent Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies annual fall meeting, state wildlife agencies presented updates on spring sage grouse lek counts that didn’t paint a pretty picture.

Like most years, there were localized increases and decreases, but the overall trend continues heading in the wrong direction. This past spring, the U.S. Geological Survey estimated a long-term, downward trend of about 3 percent for male sage grouse counted on mating grounds, or leks, across the Western states. Their analysis showed that there are 80 percent fewer male sage grouse than in 1965, and half of that loss has occurred in just the last 17 years.

Here are a few highlights shared by biologists last week:

  • In Wyoming—the major stronghold state for the bird—sage grouse lek counts were down 13 percent but were higher than at their lowest points in 1996 and 2013.
  • Sage grouse in Nevada are in awful shape. Biologists reported on long-term attendance and monitoring of 160 leks in the state, finding a 47.2-percent decline since 2019 and a trend that is 62 percent below the long-term average—the lowest ever recorded for those leks. Drought stress, cheatgrass, wildfire, feral horses, mining, and geothermal development all contribute to habitat loss and degradation in the state.
  • California noted that the bi-state sage grouse population—a distinct population in Calif. and Nev.—was stable at present, but the state’s portion of the range-wide population is down and still decreasing from peak highs in past years.
  • In Utah, seven of the state’s 11 populations showed declines, while four had increases this past year.
  • Washington suffered devastating wildfires last year that burned up significant amounts of what little quality habitat remained there. Lek counts were down 22 percent in the perimeter of the fire and down 4 percent outside the fire zone.
  • Oregon was a mild bright spot, with lek counts climbing 12 percent over the 2019 counts, but populations are still well below past highs.

These numbers have forced the states to continue conservatively managing sage grouse harvest. Nevada had to close more sage grouse hunting units, the state of Idaho has now converted to a limited permit system, and two prime areas in Colorado remain closed to grouse hunting.

Unfortunately, while our state wildlife agencies have been conservatively managing hunting for decades, this data is making it harder to defend continued recreational harvest of sage grouse. Nor does it indicate that we can avoid a future listing of the bird under the Endangered Species Act. We need huge investments in habitat restoration and continued protection of the healthy sagebrush that remains for the bird. We identified five major habitat threats that contributed to the depressing numbers this spring, and we continue to work with partners on legislative and administrative solutions that will kickstart meaningful sagebrush conservation efforts.

One such solution is introduction and passage of a North American Grasslands Conservation Act—federal legislation that would help incentivize private landowners to restore grasslands and sagebrush habitat.

Everyone, including sportsmen and women, have a vested interest in this unique ecosystem and the species that call it home. Outdoor recreation, energy and agriculture industries, and the species are all at risk if we don’t stop the bleeding and reverse these trends now.

Be part of the solution by supporting the North American Grasslands Conservation Act now. Take action and learn more about our effort with ten other leading conservation groups.

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One Response to “Some Deflating Sage Grouse Status Updates and What Can Be Done for Habitat”

  1. David Connell

    Perhaps there are Range Allotments with BLM and USFS that could be adjusted to benefit the Sage Grouse until there is recovery of the lost habitat. Are the Animal Unit Months compatible with the carrying capacity for Sage Grouse ??

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Kristyn Brady

September 8, 2021

11 Leading Conservation Groups Call on Congress to Take Action for Grasslands and Sagebrush

The TRCP joins forces with key partners to push for a North American Grasslands Conservation Act with strong investments in grassland and sagebrush restoration

The past year and a half has given Americans plenty to worry about. But in these troubling times, we’ve rediscovered an incredible resource that grounds us and helps us cope—the outdoors. And just as participation in hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation are soaring, these landscapes and our fish and wildlife resources are facing many challenges.

One that has flown under the radar is the loss of native grasslands. In fact, our once vast prairies are now one of the most threatened ecosystems on the planet. Nationwide, more than 50 million acres of grassland habitat have disappeared from the landscape in the last 10 years alone, according to a World Wildlife Fund report.

There is, however, a plan to conserve grasslands and sagebrush before it’s too late. A group of leading conservation organizations—including the TRCP, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever, National Wildlife Federation, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, Izaak Walton League, North American Grouse Partnership, National Deer Association, and Land Trust Alliance—are bringing together all those who rely on grasslands to conserve this essential habitat for future generations, while also providing economic opportunities for ranchers, farmers, and outdoor recreation businesses.

The idea is built on a proven model of conservation success and is in front of key lawmakers right now—our hope is that a North American Grasslands Conservation Act will be introduced in Congress this fall. Here’s what you need to know and how you can help.

What would the North American Grasslands Conservation Act do?

A North American Grasslands Conservation Act would provide funding needed to restore and conserve what remains of America’s grasslands and sagebrush habitat while creating a program that would work with private landowners—whose working farms and ranches are key to the success of this ecosystem.

The Act would establish a grant program designed to provide landowners with voluntary, flexible economic incentives and opportunities to help improve and conserve our disappearing grasslands. The funding could go toward restoring native grasses, controlling invasive species, managing with prescribed fire, or fighting conifer tree encroachment that has been turning our grasslands into forests with little utility for grassland-dependent species.

This approach is innovative, but there is already a model for its success: The North American Wetlands Conservation Act. Its voluntary incentives have helped to fund nearly 3,000 wetlands improvement projects across 30 million acres in all 50 states.

What NAWCA has done for waterfowl, the North American Grasslands Conservation Act could do for pronghorns, sage grouse, mule deer, and many other species. And NAWCA has also had a tremendous economic impact that could be replicated in prairie states. A program such as a North American Grasslands Act would create new economic opportunities by funding conservation jobs, improving habitat that supports outdoor recreation and ranching businesses, and investing in the wildlife populations that support hunting and other wildlife-related tourism.

How can hunters and anglers help?

Grasslands and the sagebrush steppe are under threat, but by working together, we can ensure their beauty for future generations and for all those who rely on them. You can call on lawmakers to support the idea behind the North American Grasslands Conservation Act by taking action at actforgrasslands.org.

Randall Williams

August 25, 2021

Migration Corridor Conservation Prioritized by New Mexico Governor

New executive order establishes collaborative approach to prioritizing big game seasonal habitats

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham today announced bold steps to conserve New Mexico’s land, water, and wildlife, adopting the goal of conserving 30 percent of all lands in the state by 2030. Through an executive order, the governor established a 30 by 30 Committee comprised of secretaries or designees of seven state agencies and directed it to “support and implement programs designed to conserve, protect, and enhance lands and natural environments across the state,” emphasizing among other things efforts that “support migratory wildlife habitat and ensure movement across the landscape.”

“Today’s commitment to safeguarding New Mexico’s migratory habitats is a strong step forward on a conservation challenge that has been front-and-center among the issues that matter most to sportsmen and sportswomen,” said John Cornell, the southwest field manager for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We want to thank Governor Lujan Grisham for recognizing the value of the outdoor recreation economy, for highlighting the importance of increased access and recreation, and for including these issues among her administration’s priorities. New Mexico has vast natural landscapes and incredible wildlife resources that will benefit greatly from the goals laid out in this order.”

Significantly, the executive order directs state agencies to “coordinat[e] as much as possible with federal agencies that manage lands and resources across New Mexico, including through direct engagement on natural resource management plans, transportation and energy development projects, and any other initiatives that impact land and water conservation, including wildlife migration.” In June, the TRCP released a report highlighting opportunities for the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service to work with state wildlife agencies to incorporate big game migration science and data into land management plans and decisions.

Governor Lujan Grisham’s executive order arrives as the Biden-led Departments of the Interior and Agriculture are shaping their next steps for migration corridor conservation, which was highlighted as a priority in the May 2021 report Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful. The Interior Department began partnering with Western states on the issue in 2018 when then-Secretary Ryan Zinke signed Secretarial Order 3362. Sportsmen and sportswomen see considerable opportunity for the federal agencies to build upon these early successes to ensure meaningful and durable habitat conservation.

According to the executive order, the committee will also focus on land- and water-based solutions that help sequester carbon and greenhouse gas emissions. Last year, the TRCP and 40 other hunting and fishing conservation groups launched Conservationists for Climate Solutions to drive solutions-oriented policies that combat the impacts of climate change on land, water, and wildlife.

“Hunters and anglers applaud today’s announcement and look forward to working with the governor’s office and the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish to achieve these outcomes,” continued Cornell. “Our community is ready to collaborate with a diverse range of stakeholders to be part of the solution and to bring sportsmen’s and sportswomen’s voices to the table as we tackle these important issues.”

To read more from the Governor’s Executive Order click HERE.

Andrew Wilkins

August 24, 2021

What Is Budget Reconciliation and How Can This Process Do More for Conservation?

Breaking down the budget process that will make or break the effort to secure once-in-a-generation investments in habitat

As we’ve shared over the past few weeks, the Senate has passed a once-in-a-generation infrastructure package that would provide significant funding for conservation priorities, including wildlife crossings, national forest road repair and maintenance, drought and climate resilience, clean water, and habitat restoration.

But leading lawmakers aren’t planning to advance this legislation without a budget reconciliation bill that invests in conservation and climate-smart measures at the same time. This means that hunters and anglers need to not only push Congress to carry the decade-defining infrastructure package across the finish line, but also urge decision-makers to include robust funding for conservation in this other crucial bill—which, as it stands, leaves out some essential habitat programs.

So, what is reconciliation?

Reconciliation refers to a special, Senate-driven step in the budget-making process that is typically only possible when the same party controls both Congress and the White House.

When the Senate passes an annual budget resolution, it can include instructions to align—or reconcile—spending priorities with a particular objective. These instructions direct changes in spending, revenues, deficits, or the debt limit by specific amounts to pursue a specific policy agenda. In the past, this process has been used by both parties to lower taxes, adjust social safety net programs, and change health care and education law.

This time around, the intention is to significantly increase funding for conservation priorities, which is why hunters and anglers need to weigh in.

Unfortunately, though conservation funding and priorities still enjoy broad support by both Republicans and Democrats, this is not a bipartisan process. But it’s still important for hunters and anglers to speak up and alert the Senate and House Democrats driving this bill to the full scope of opportunities for fish and wildlife conservation success.

Here are five major priorities we’re still pushing for.

Overall Funding for the Department of the Interior

Early reports indicate that draft reconciliation instructions do not include adequate funding for the Department of the Interior. This is troubling, since the original goal of this process is to commit more funding to respond to critical conservation challenges facing our nation, many of which will be tackled by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Geological Survey, and Bureau of Reclamation—all agencies that could miss out if Congress doesn’t commit more funding to Interior. Bureau of Land Management lands alone account for nearly half of the nationwide acres experiencing fire or drought, not to mention an overwhelming amount of hunting and fishing opportunities in the western United States.

If Congress is serious about making a historic investment in conservation, lawmakers must ensure that Interior’s topline for funding is increased so that these funds can go to agencies that sportsmen and sportswomen rely on to restore and protect critical public lands and waters.

Wetlands Restoration Funds

Hunters and anglers will benefit from doubling funding for one key program at Interior: the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA), which has successfully restored nearly 30 million acres of waterfowl habitat in the last 30 years. This program has resulted in billions of dollars being invested in wetlands conservation, and the return on investment has been proven. That’s why we’re encouraging budget negotiators to not only increase funding for Interior, but also to make sure that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service receives double the annual funding for this signature conservation program.

Private Land Conservation Efforts

We also request that lawmakers double the conservation investments in the Farm Bill through the reconciliation process. Demand for conservation on 13.8 million acres of private land goes unmet each year because of inadequate funding for the Farm Bill’s most popular and effective conservation programs. That means nearly 40 percent of all applications submitted for Farm Bill conservation programs cannot be enrolled. Congress should use this opportunity to double the reach of these programs and ramp up the on-the-ground technical support provided to farmers, ranchers, and forest-owners as they work to boost fish and wildlife habitat on their lands.

Support for Bedrock Conservation Policy

As I mentioned above, a decade-defining infrastructure package is tied to reconciliation, and once this legislation passes, it will kickstart a boom in necessary infrastructure upgrades and innovative new projects. This is a good thing! But with all of this activity comes a need to make sure that habitat will not be impacted by development. This can only be done through thorough and timely reviews directed by our bedrock conservation laws, which make sure that projects in and around public lands and waters don’t cause undue harm to fish and wildlife.

Reconciliation funding for the Department of the Interior currently overlooks the increased investments needed to build capacity for the deluge of new projects. Without the ability to complete these studies in both a timely and thorough manner, this will slow down the construction of new infrastructure projects and could threaten our lands, waters, and wildlife. Lawmakers should support and invest in the agencies that carefully manage fish and wildlife resources in balance with essential infrastructure projects.

Conserving Water in the Colorado River Basin

Finally, Congress has the chance to help build resiliency in the Colorado River Basin in two ways. First, Congress should fund the ecosystem and water supply projects needed to comply with our treaty with Mexico, with whom we share the river. Second—not just for the Basin but across the West—Congress must boost funding for the U.S. Geological Survey so that they can continue to provide information on river flows and snowpack levels to do the modeling and scientific analysis that will help us develop more sustainable water-use strategies. The USGS is a critical, and often underfunded, conservation agency. It’s important that Congress supports their mission so that they can, in turn, inform important water, wildlife, and habitat restoration efforts.

Hunters and anglers, particularly in key House districts, can make an impact by sharing these urgent asks directly with target lawmakers. Click here to use our simple advocacy tool now.

Randall Williams

August 23, 2021

New Executive Order in Nevada Prioritizes Migration Corridor Conservation

Hunters & anglers celebrate the development of a statewide wildlife connectivity plan

Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak announced the creation of a new Nevada Habitat Conservation Framework to conserve, restore, and rehabilitate the Silver State’s sagebrush habitat. One of the key components of this initiative is the development of a Wildlife Connectivity Plan that will “identify and conserve migratory [big game] corridors.”

The Nevada Department of Wildlife, with input from stakeholders such as conservation groups, private landowners, and tribal communities, will identify and delineate migration corridors and seasonal habitats using the best-available science. As a result, these areas will receive much-needed special consideration in the land-use planning process.

“This plan recognizes the urgent need to ensure Nevada’s big game populations can continue to move across the landscape and access the seasonal habitats they need to survive,” said Carl Erquiaga, field representative for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “By working together, we can come up with a plan to restore and connect critical habitat for mule deer, pronghorn, and bighorn sheep. We thank Governor Sisolak for his continued focus on conservation issues that support our rural economies.”

According to a poll conducted last year by the research firm FM3 for the Pew Charitable Trusts, more than 93% of registered voters in Nevada supported the implementation of new conservation measures to protect wildlife migration corridors.

Sagebrush habitat covers more than 50 percent of the Silver State and sustains an outdoor recreation economy generating more than $12.5 billion in annual consumer spending and supporting 87,000 jobs. More than 367 species of plants and animals rely on the sagebrush ecosystem, which is considered one of the most imperiled in the U.S. These habitats are also essential to the functionality of Nevada’s big game migration corridors, allowing for healthy populations of mule deer, pronghorn, and bighorn sheep.

With so much of Nevada’s landscape managed by federal agencies, successful implementation of Sisolak’s executive order will necessitate coordination with the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service, specifically their incorporation of big game migration science and data into land management plans and decisions. In June, the TRCP released a report highlighting opportunities for federal land managers in Nevada and across the West to do just that.

Fortunately, Nevada’s new executive order comes at a time when the Biden-led Departments of the Interior and Agriculture are shaping their next steps for migration corridor conservation, which was highlighted as a priority in the May 2021 report Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful. The Interior Department began partnering with Western states on the issue in 2018 when then-Secretary Ryan Zinke signed Secretarial Order 3362. Sportsmen and sportswomen see considerable opportunity for the federal agencies to build upon these early successes to ensure meaningful and durable habitat conservation.

“Nevada’s Habitat Conservation Framework could help pave the way for increased partnership between the Nevada Department of Wildlife and federal agencies, like the Bureau of Land Management which is responsible for overseeing 48 million acres in Nevada,” said Madeleine West, director of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s public lands program. “We are hopeful that federal land managers will increase their focus and investment in migration conservation across the West. Doing so is critical to conserving and restoring the important habitats that sustain the region’s storied big game herds and hunting traditions.

To read a copy of the Governor’s Executive Order click HERE.

 

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