For Immediate Release
Megan Mueller, Wildlife Biologist, Rocky Mountain Wild, 303-704-9760
Juli Slivka, Planning Specialist, The Wilderness Society, 303-241-9431
Luke Schafer, West Slope Advocacy Director, Conservation Colorado, 970-756-5854
Improved management safeguards needed top put the bird on track to recovery
Lakewood, CO (August 12, 2016) — The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued a draft management plan today intended to update and improve safeguards for Gunnison sage-grouse, a bird that is at risk of extinction and protected as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. Unfortunately, the BLM’s plan falls short of what is needed to ensure this effort will reach the goal of providing long-term stability to the grouse.
“A sure way to safeguard Gunnison sage-grouse and the lands they call home is to build on the ongoing collaborative efforts on private and state land that would put Gunnison sage-grouse on the fast track to recovery,” said Juli Slivka, planning specialist with The Wilderness Society. “This plan should be a key part of recovering the population – but the pathway proposed by the BLM misses the opportunity to put in place smarter practices and better management.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) decided to protect the Gunnison sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 2014. Since then, private landowners, state and county governments, and others have redoubled efforts to save grouse habitat. However, 40% of occupied Gunnison sage-grouse habitat is on public land managed by the BLM, and is not adequately protected from oil and gas drilling, mining and many other threats.
“BLM’s draft plan does not include safeguards that are needed to protect some of the best remaining Gunnison sage-grouse habitat from oil and gas drilling and other threats,” said Megan Mueller, Senior Conservation Biologist with Rocky Mountain Wild. “We need a plan with stronger protections for Gunnison sage-grouse to bolster the efforts of ranchers, biologists, local residents, county and state governments and conservation groups who are working together to save habitat for Gunnison sage-grouse and put the bird on the road to recovery.”
As part of a similar collaborative effort to put conservation measures in place for the closely related Greater sage-grouse, the BLM developed land management plans that helped to reduce threats to Greater sage-grouse across 90% of the bird’s habitat, and enabled the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to conclude that the greater sage-grouse did not need ESA protection.
“As we saw with the Greater sage-grouse, a comprehensive and ambitious conservation strategy that conserves habitat regardless of ownership can be a substitute for the ESA.” Said Luke Schafer, West Slope Advocacy Director for Conservation Colorado. “However, in order to demonstrate that Gunnison sage-grouse no longer requires ESA protections, we need a strong BLM plan to complement the conservation initiatives on private and state lands that have been led by Gunnison County and the State of Colorado. We’re not there yet with this BLM plan, but we’re getting closer.”
Background: The Gunnison sage-grouse is distinct from greater sage-grouse, identified by researchers as early as the 1970s and recognized as a new species by the American Ornithologists Union in 2000. Greater sage-grouse still occupy 56% of their historic range and are found across 11 western states, while Gunnison sage-grouse occupy only 7% of their historic range, and are limited to a small part of western Colorado and eastern Utah. Gunnison sage-grouse have experienced significant declines from historic numbers and fewer than 5,000 breeding individuals remain. Protecting Gunnison sage-grouse habitat benefits not only Gunnison sage-grouse, but also deer, elk, antelope and other wildlife that share the same habitat.