Conservation Briefs

Conservation Briefs

Conservation Briefs is a compilation of short news stories of interest to Outdoor News Bulletin readers. The stories cover a number of issues that have developed in the past month or provide updates on issues that were featured in previous ONB editions. Each story includes links to online resources for more details on each topic.

This Month:

Feds, States Meet on Sage-grouse

In early October, representatives from the Sage-Grouse Task Force made up of state and federal management agencies met in Denver to discuss the states' current planning efforts to conserve greater sage-grouse. The Sage-Grouse Task Force, established in 2011 by then-Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and chaired by Governors John Hickenlooper of Colorado and Matt Mead of Wyoming, was intended to allow federal and state governments to coordinate their efforts on sage-grouse conservation. While the Task Force has met periodically in the subsequent three years, the Western Governor's Association (WGA) sent a letter to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forest Service in late September expressing their frustration with delays in scheduling a meeting to discuss planning efforts.

"As Governors, we feel that federal coordination with the states in this planning process is being ineffectually approached and treated more as an afterthought by BLM and USFS at the D.C. level. We are displeased regarding how states are being consulted with respect to an issue of such overriding importance. Contacting the states for planning coordination at such a late stage does not reflect an objective to work in authentic partnership to address GSG conservation," wrote the governors.

In March, the WGA released a Sage-Grouse Inventory that detailed the conservation work in the 11 Western states. The meeting in Denver allowed state fish and wildlife agencies to present their current sage-grouse conservation plans and get feedback from the BLM and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

AFWA Announces Members of Blue Ribbon Panel

During their annual meeting in late September in St. Louis, Missouri, the Association of Fish and Agencies announced the 20 members that will make up the new Blue Ribbon Panel on Sustaining America's Diverse Fish and Wildlife Resources. The panel, co-chaired by John L. Morris, founder and CEO of Bass Pro Shops, and Dave Freudenthal, former governor of Wyoming, will focus on increasing funding for state fish and wildlife conservation efforts. The members represent a diverse group of leaders from the outdoor industry, conservation organizations and the energy industry. Over the course of the next year, the panel will meet to brainstorm ideas to secure consistent funding for programs that work to prevent species decline. The initiative reinvigorates the organization's "Teaming with Wildlife" efforts that saw the greatest traction in the late 1990s. That effort resulted in the creation of the State and Tribal Wildlife Grants program and the development of State Wildlife Action Plans. However, funding for the 95 percent of species that are not hunted or fished or listed as endangered continues to be a challenge.

"Conservation means balancing the sustainability of fish and wildlife with the many needs of humans for clean air and water; land; food and fiber; dependable energy; economic development and recreation," said Morris. "By assembling this Panel of highly regarded leaders and problem solvers, we will find a way forward that safeguards not only vital natural resources, but also our nation's economic prosperity and outdoor heritage."

Wolves Back on Endangered Species List in Wyoming

On September 22, a decision by the U.S. District Court in Washington, DC placed wolves in Wyoming back on the Endangered Species List. Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's decision to "rely on the state's nonbinding promises to maintain a particular number of wolves when the availability of that specific numerical buffer was such a critical aspect of the delisting decision" was arbitrary and capricious. The court supported the finding that the species is recovered and not "endangered or threatened within a significant portion of its range," but the judgment focused on the whether Wyoming could ensure that minimum management targets could be met. The state's commitment to meet that target was written as an addendum rather than being included in the formal plan. The decision was made just weeks before the state's wolf hunting season in the Wolf Trophy Game Management Area in the northwest portion of the state.

New Research Released on Sage-grouse

Two new studies spotlight the importance of wet areas found predominantly on private lands for sage-grouse summer habitat as well as how sage-grouse conservation efforts are helping mule deer. The analysis of sage-grouse summer habitat research found that 85 percent of leks were clustered within six miles of wet summer habitats along streamsides, wet meadows and wetlands. Because most of these riparian areas are also where people have settled, 80 percent of these wet areas are found on private lands.

"This study makes it clear that successful sage-grouse conservation will greatly depend on cooperative ventures with private landowners, ranchers and farmers to help sustain vital summer habitats," notes the Sage Grouse Initiative in their summary of the research.

The second study, published in late September in the Ecological Society of America's publication Ecosphere, spotlights how greater sage-grouse conservation efforts can also help non-target species like mule deer. Conducted in the Upper Green River Basin in Wyoming, the research found that core sage-grouse habitat overlapped with 52-91 percent of winter range, 74-75 percent of stopover areas and 66-70 percent of migration corridors used by mule deer. This is the first study to quantify how conservation efforts for sage-grouse under policies like Wyoming's "core areas" can also benefit migratory mule deer and the 350 other species found in sagebrush ecosystems.

"This study underscores the simple idea that keeping sagebrush habitats intact through Wyoming's core area policy and conservation easements will have additional benefits for mule deer habitat," says Holly Copeland, a research scientist with The Nature Conservancy in Wyoming and lead author of the paper. "We are excited by our findings but caution that there are gaps in mule deer conservation, especially outside of core areas, where future development may become more concentrated, potentially resulting in impacts to migrating deer."

October 16, 2014