Today, the Department of the Interior (DOI) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released the final guidance and implementation documents for the monumental conservation effort to protect the greater sage grouse in the West. While we are grateful to the DOI and BLM for their critical leadership throughout the largest landscape level conservation effort in history, we recognize that they wouldn’t have been successful without the steadfast commitment of a number of key Western states as well as local stakeholders who worked tirelessly to ensure that these public land management plans met the unique needs of Western communities and ecosystems.
Montana’s involvement in the development and implementation of the state and federal plans exemplifies what can be accomplished through collaborative, science-backed conservation. Our state’s leadership under Governor Bullock on this endeavor, including the development of the Sage Grouse Stewardship Act and the Montana Sage Grouse Oversight Team, is helping to conserve the sage grouse while preserving economic development in the state.
While Montana is seeing an upward trend in sage grouse numbers, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) attributes the good news to weather and normal cycles in bird populations. "These kinds of population cycles are normal, what we're hoping to do with our habitat conservation efforts and monitoring work is to keep the dips in population from being so dramatic," said Catherine Wightman, the wildlife habitat and Farm Bill coordinator for FWP. With all of that said, while things are looking good for the time being, sage grouse aren’t necessarily out of the woods yet. And that’s why the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will reexamine the health of Montana’s sage grouse population in 2020.
Interestingly enough, the biggest danger facing the sage grouse right now might be Congress.
While the federal landscape-level conservation plans address threats to sage grouse from land uses like grazing and energy development, some elected officials seem hell-bent on posing their own risks to this iconic and imperiled Western bird. Despite the groundbreaking collaborative work that went into developing this conservation strategy, there are lawmakers who are working to overturn the very plans that are helping to recover the sage grouse and avoid the need to list the bird under the Endangered Species Act. These politicians aren’t just playing fast and loose with the fate of the greater sage grouse, but by attacking these commonsense and bipartisan plans they are also threatening the economic well-being of communities and individuals across the West.
So, credit to DOI, BLM, and to the states and stakeholders who have given the sage grouse and its habitat the best chance for recovery. It’s crucial that Montanans continue to collaborate and work hard to ensure the effective and successful implementation of the state, federal, and voluntary plans, and that we push back against lawmakers that would threaten the bird, its habitat, and Western economies.