Interior unveils plans that could help protect imperiled sage-grouse

Greater sage-grouse

Bob Wick, BLM.

Department of Interior’s plans for greater sage-grouse will help balance development and conservation.

A new multi-state plan for the greater sage-grouse could include conservation measures to protect more than 50 million acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land that provides critical habitat for the species. Secretary Sally Jewell announced the plan on May 28 in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

“The West is rapidly changing—with increasingly intense wildfires, invasive species and development altering the sagebrush landscape and threatening wildlife, ranching and our outdoor heritage,” said Jewell. “As land managers of two-thirds of greater sage-grouse habitat, we have a responsibility to take action that ensures a bright future for wildlife and a thriving western economy. Together with conservation efforts from states and private landowners, we are laying an important foundation to save the disappearing sagebrush landscape of the American West.”

Once implemented, the plan could compliment the broad efforts underway to protect sage-grouse habitat across the West. The near-final plan still has to go through a protest period and a governors’ review period, but it is not expected to change significantly.

“It has been impressive and downright inspiring to see the BLM engaging in true landscape level planning focused on the need for conservation as part of managing public lands,” said Nada Culver, senior director for Agency Policy at The Wilderness Society. “We’ve seen the progress that can be made when you work with local communities, county and state leaders, alongside energy developers and the conservation community. This is about a lot more than the land the grouse (and the mule deer and the pronghorn antelope) call home. This is about our western way of life, our ability to maintain a healthy environment for all wildlife to flourish, and the future of public lands treasured by all Americans.”

This plan could mark a shift in the imbalance that has historically occurred between energy development and other uses of public lands. Federal data shows that 90 percent of our public lands are available to oil and gas drillers.

In Wyoming, where Secretary Jewell released the plans, 95 percent of BLM lands are currently open to potential leasing. While Interior’s sage-grouse plans will not, unfortunately, directly address this imbalance, they could help put the BLM on the right track to better land management across the West.