Once numbering in the millions, the Greater Sage-Grouse has declined precipitously across its range due to widespread habitat destruction. Montana is included in these steep declines. To help prevent this iconic bird from becoming endangered, many stakeholders—states, ranchers, conservationists, industry, scientists, and federal agencies—collaboratively developed a balanced conservation plan to protect 67 million acres of habitat for the sage-grouse and 350 other species. These landmark plans also ensure sustainable economic growth for communities across the West. Now, the Department of the Interior is trying to overhaul these plans, which will weaken or eliminate their vital habitat protections.
This new announcement raises concerns that habitat protections could be weakened or eliminated by exploring “creative approaches” that are alternatives to protecting habitat, such as captive breeding and setting population targets state by state. Neither approach is supported by applicable science nor experts in the field. Secretary Zinke has emphasized eliminating burdens on energy development on public lands, even if it comes at the expense of sage-grouse conservation—or long-term predictability for industry interests. However, recent studies have shown that very few of the protected areas overlap with high-potential places for oil and gas or other forms of development.
The Department of the Interior, through the Bureau of Land Management, is accepting public comments until November 27 on this misguided effort. The only public meeting in Montana was held in Billings on November 8 but written comments are still being accepted. You may submit comments through the National Audubon Society (http://www.audubon.org/conservation/issues/greater-sage-grouse then click on “send letter to the administration”) or directly to the Department of Interior at http://bit.ly/GRSGplanning then click on “click here to go directly to comments submission form.”
Adapted from National Audubon Society action alert