Gov’t to Protect Sage Grouse Habitat in Ore., 9 Other States

Last week, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell unveiled a new proposal that would preserve the habitat of the imperiled sage grouse across ten states, from the Dakotas to Oregon. The measure represents the US government’s largest-ever land-planning effort for the conservation of a single species.

Sage Grouse vs. Oil & Gas

Chicken-sized and ground-dwelling, sage grouse inhabit grasslands across the western United States. The total combined area of the birds’ habitat is approximately the size of Colorado. Roughly two-thirds of that area has been classified as “priority habitat” by the Department of the Interior. The sage grouse population has taken a steep dive over the past several decades, and many environmentalists fear that extinction is imminent.

The conservation efforts would affect energy development going forward. Oil and gas companies building new wells would be required to construct them in clusters of six more, minimize their sprawl across sage grouse habitat. Drilling for new wells would be prohibited during mating season. Existing power lines would be relocated outside the birds’ prime habitat to deter raptors who prey on sage grouse from perching on the lines.

Some restrictions would vary by state. Overall, the measure would apply to federal lands in California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North and South Dakota, Utah, Wyoming, and good ol’ Oregon.

The US Fish & Wildlife Service: Serving fish and wildlife since 1940.

The US Fish & Wildlife Service: Serving fish and wildlife since 1940.

The measure does not seek to block development across the entire protected sage grouse habitat. The government will still honor valid and existing resource development rights, a concession that many environmentalists are decrying. “[…]These plans are grounded in sound science,” Jewell stated last Thursday during a press conference near Cheyenne, Wyoming. “The best available science.”

What A Surprise: GOP Against Conservation Efforts

Whether or not the sage grouse receives protection as a threatened or an endangered species going forward is up to the US Fish & Wildlife Service. The FWS is facing a court-ordered September 30th deadline to make their decision.

Last year, Congress voted to withhold funding that would go toward implementing a threatened or endangered listing until September of 2016. Another pending Congressional measure would postpone any federal listing for at least five years, allowing states to develop their own conservation plans.

Some lawmakers from the potentially affected states and representatives from the oil and gas industry say listing the sage grouse as threatened or endangered could have a significant negative impact on the area’s economy. Congressional Republicans, perhaps unsurprisingly, are against the proposed measure, calling it a federal overreach.

Utah Representative, chairman of House Natural Resources Committee, and wildlife-hater Rob Bishop said, “This is just flat out wrong. The state plans work. This proposal is only about controlling land, not saving the bird.” Of course the state plans work, Bobby—there must be some other reason that the birds’ population keeps dwindling.

Despite the petty whining of the GOP, the US Bureau of Land Management is expected to approve the new measures by the end of the summer.

Photo credit: USFWS Mountain Prairie / Foter / CC BY