Report calls for immediate, shared conservation actions across greater sage-grouse range

Report calls for immediate, shared conservation actions across greater sage-grouse range

A new set of findings and recommendations to conserve greater sage-grouse in the western United States and Canada has been produced through the collaborative efforts of a diverse 35-member working group, reports the Wildlife Management Institute.

The report was produced by the Greater Sage-grouse Range-wide Issues Forum (Forum), which the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) convened to devise approaches to contribute to a range-wide conservation strategy that would "maintain or, where possible, increase the present distribution and abundance of greater sage-grouse and sagebrush habitat." The Forum range-wide findings and recommendations will be integrated with approaches already developed at local working group, state/province, tribal and federal agency levels and incorporated into the WAFWA Greater Sage-grouse Comprehensive Conservation Strategy.

Greater sage-grouse currently occupy approximately 56 percent of the species' historically occupied range. Forum findings recognize that the loss of 44 percent of greater sage-grouse range and the fragmentation and degradation of remaining habitats pose great challenges to perpetuate and conserve the species. Without greater conservation efforts, according to the Forum, increasing human population and use of greater sage-grouse habitat will continue to compromise the birds' abundance and distribution. The report finds that federal, state and provincial land and resource management agencies often have failed to involve citizens sufficiently and meaningfully in an integrated planning process. The Forum report concludes that, even in those instances when citizen involvement has occurred, there seldom has been sufficient resolve by the agencies to bring about change that actually benefits greater sage-grouse and sagebrush habitat.

The Forum report recommends immediate investment of resources to address a number of critical needs. For the eastern half of greater sage-grouse range, it stresses the need to assure no net loss of sagebrush habitat or greater sage-grouse populations in providing for non-renewable resource development and utilization. High priority also is given to development of consistent guidelines and implementation of best-management practices and appropriate mitigation measures to minimize impacts to greater sage-grouse and sagebrush habitat in locating energy corridors and operating and maintaining energy facilities. For the western half of the species' range, the report emphasizes containing and suppressing wildfires, addressing invasive plant species and managing dispersed recreational activities to avoid, reduce and, where possible, eliminate displacement of greater sage-grouse or negative impacts to greater sage-grouse habitat.

Over the entire range of the greater sage-grouse, the Forum sees an immediate, critical need for shared leadership and commitment to locate and protect important habitats ("save the best") and identify priority areas on which to focus conservation actions to maintain the function of sagebrush ecosystems ("retain what we're losing").

Other identified high priorities include expanding long-term, existing, natural resource information portals (e.g., SAGEMAP) to provide easy and dependable access to information, implementing integrated research and monitoring projects within a landscape context, to use grazing systems and management practices that maintain soil quality and ecological processes, and to create a mechanism for sharing information to address cumulative effects on habitats.

Forum participants identified three essential resources needed to take this work forward: (1) funding, (2) leadership committed to organizing, supporting and guiding a long-term effort, and (3) the appropriate organizational structure to sustain it. The final Forum report may be obtained at

May 13, 2006