Overview of the issue

The TRCP has been on the front lines of sage grouse conservation for years. The decline of this iconic game bird of the American West indicates that sagebrush habitat is in trouble, and we care because sagebrush ecosystems are home to more than 350 different species of plants and animals, including such iconic game species as pronghorn antelope and mule deer.

Through effective activation of our grassroots network, the TRCP and its partners have bolstered the multi-pronged approach to sage grouse conservation that has kept the bird off the Endangered Species list. We were strategically engaged with outdoor and national media hungry for grouse information. We also helped stop congressional opponents from derailing the process. Finally, we successfully advocated for strong agency funding to implement critical conservation plans.

But now the future of these plans is in limbo. For a refresher on how we got here, scroll through our timeline of sage grouse conservation milestones.

A History of Sage Grouse Conservation in the U.S.

Sage Grouse

1900

A Turning Point in Hunting’s History

A Turning Point in Hunting’s History

The Lacey Act is signed into law, ending market hunting in the U.S. Each state becomes responsible for the management of its sage grouse—along with all other fish and wildlife species—and the establishment of hunting seasons and bag limits.

December 1, 1916

An Icon Urges States to Get Real

An Icon Urges States to Get Real

William Temple Hornady publishes his “Save the Sage from Extinction” bulletin, which calls out the states for excessive sage grouse hunting seasons and bag limits.

1948-1952

First Comprehensive Study of Grouse Species

Robert L. Patterson leads the first comprehensive study of the several species of Western grouse  and publishes his seminal work, The Sage Grouse in Wyoming.

1954

Sharing Best Practices for Better Sage Grouse Management

Even 40 years before the first thought of pursuing extra protections for the species, the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies recognizes the value of sage grouse and the need for more scientific study by establishing a Sage Grouse Technical Committee to coordinate management, research, and information sharing among the states.

1994

Red Flags Arise

Facing poor lek counts and continued habitat loss and degradation, the Sage Grouse Technical Committee evaluates the potential for filing an endangered species listing petition, but ultimately determines that sage grouse do not meet listing criteria.

1999-2003

Concerns Over Sage Grouse Reach Decision-Makers

Concerns Over Sage Grouse Reach Decision-Makers

Over the course of four years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service receives eight petitions to list the greater sage grouse as threatened or endangered in all or parts of the bird’s range.

January 12, 2005

Fish and Wildlife Service Makes Its First Listing Decision

The Fish and Wildlife Service determines, for the first time, that the sage grouse does not warrant protections under the Endangered Species Act.

February 26, 2008

First Listing Decision Is Challenged In Court

Facing legal challenges, the Service agrees to revisit their 2005 decision not to list the sage grouse for Endangered Species Act protection.

August 1, 2008

Wyoming Takes the Lead

Wyoming Governor Dave Freudenthal signs the first executive order on sage grouse to come from a state leader and begins implementing a unique core area strategy to conserve the greater sage grouse and its habitat.

March 23, 2010

Sage Grouse Are In Line Behind Other At-Risk Species

The Fish and Wildlife Service determines that the sage grouse deserves protection under the Endangered Species Act, but while other higher-priority species take precedence there is no timeline for a final listing decision on sage grouse.

2010

Federal Agency Gets Private Landowners Involved

The Natural Resources Conservation Service, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, launches the Sage Grouse Initiative—a partnership-based effort to incentivize private landowners to conserve western rangelands, including sagebrush habitats.

May 10, 2011

Court Orders a Final Listing Decision

The District Court in D.C. orders the Fish and Wildlife Service to make a final listing decision for the greater sage grouse by September 30, 2015.

May 2011

An Epic Planning Effort Begins

An Epic Planning Effort Begins

The Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, and 11 Western states embark on a historic conservation planning effort to amend resource management and forest plans to address range-wide declines in greater sage grouse populations.

April 22, 2015

Bi-State Grouse Are Not Listed

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announces that the genetically distinct population of greater sage grouse in northern California and western Nevada, known as the bi-state population, does not warrant Endangered Species Act protections.
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May 28, 2015

Collaborative Conservation Plans Are Finalized

The Bureau of Land Management releases its final conservation plans for the greater sage grouse and amends 98 resource management plans across the West.
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September 22, 2015

Sage Grouse Not Added to Endangered or Threatened List

Sage Grouse Not Added to Endangered or Threatened List

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announces that the range-wide population of greater sage grouse does not warrant Endangered Species Act protections, largely predicated on the strength of the collaborative conservation plans. This is a watershed moment for proactive, landscape-scale conservation!
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2016

One Year Later, There’s Still Work to Do

A year after the milestone “not warranted” decision, bird numbers are up across most of the range—but it’s not what you think. The 63-percent increase in males attending leks is compared to record lows from 2013, and while ongoing conservation efforts are helping, the population increase is more likely tied to better precipitation across sagebrush country. Meanwhile, many of the states are implementing their conservation plans. Some, like Wyoming, have been doing it for several years, but others are barely getting started.
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September 20, 2016

Sportsmen Push Back on Weakening Conservation

The TRCP and outdoor businesses push back on congressional meddling with sage grouse conservation and push for swift implementation of the 2015 plans.
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June 7, 2017

Trump Administration Calls for Review

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke signs Secretarial Order 3353, which calls for a Trump Administration review of—and possible revisions to—the 2015 federal sage grouse conservation plans. The TRCP and its partners warn against undermining habitat conservation. LEARN MORE >

November 30, 2017

The Science Community Speaks Out

More than 100 wildlife and natural resources professionals urge the DOI and BLM to stick to the science when considering any changes to federal sage grouse conservation plans. LEARN MORE >

March 15, 2019

BLM Revises its Conservation Plans

The DOI and BLM release final revised sage grouse conservation plans that strip back certain conservation measures. LEARN MORE >

August 5, 2019

Forest Service Unveils its Changes to Plans

The U.S. Forest Service releases its final proposed changes to plans in Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado. LEARN MORE >

October 16, 2019

BLM Amended Plans Are Blocked

U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill rules that the Bureau of Land Management failed to fully analyze how sage grouse would be affected by changes in the amended land-use plans finalized in March 2019. LEARN MORE >

February 19, 2020

Judge to Determine Future of the Plans

The BLM releases six draft supplemental environmental impact statements for greater sage grouse plans across the West to address concerns raised in the litigation and Winmill ruling and injunction. Whether the judge accepts or rejects the BLM’s analysis will determine if sage grouse conservation can proceed according to the original plans or those altered during the Trump Administration.

Early 2020

A Long-Term Downward Trend

A Long-Term Downward Trend

Compared to 2016, there are 30 to 60 percent fewer male sage grouse dancing on their breeding grounds across the 11 Western states leading into the spring mating season. LEARN MORE >

Fall 2020

Popular Sage Grouse Hunting Units Closed

Popular Sage Grouse Hunting Units Closed

Colorado closes sage grouse hunting in two of the best units in the state because of lost habitat and fewer birds counted for three consecutive years. Nevada offers 40 percent fewer special permits to hunt grouse on the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge. Idaho, once a major stronghold for sage grouse offering liberal seasons and bag limits, now allows just one bird per day for either a 2- or 7-day season, depending on the unit. Oregon reduces the number of limited permits available to hunters for the 2020 season. And sage grouse hunting remains closed in parts of Wyoming, the Dakotas, California, and Washington. LEARN MORE >

Why does TRCP care?

The fact that a once common, widely distributed and liberally harvested game bird even had to be considered for listing under the ESA should concern all sportsmen and women. Also, the sagebrush sea is home to so many species we love to pursue – pronghorn, mule deer, elk and sage grouse. It plays a role in the region’s vibrant rural economy, way of life, and outdoor recreation opportunities.

The long-term future of sage grouse and the sagebrush ecosystem is still being shaped by the decisions we make today. Continued habitat loss and degradation, combined with the uncertainty of conservation plans that face political and legal challenges, do not bode well for the species or people that depend on the sagebrush sea. Leadership, adequate funding, and strong policies–for implementation of federal and state plans and continued private lands conservation programs–are all vital.

We cannot waver or be short-sighted. Conservation efforts for sage grouse will act as an umbrella and help conserve not just the 350 species of plants and animals across 11 western states, but also a sustainable and prosperous future for the West.