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Public comment on Wyoming’s sage grouse core area revisions ends this Friday 

Bob Wick

The state is proposing to revise its greater sage grouse core area map. Land listed as ‘core’ means it is more critical to the bird’s livelihood, so development is limited. The state held several public meetings over the past week including one in Pinedale, a mecca for sage grouse, to discuss the revisions.

Wyoming is likely adding more land for protection to its 2015 core area map, and while some residents are frustrated that protections are growing, state officials say it is the best option. That is because the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is also updating its sage grouse conservation strategy, and state officials say that strategy could add even more restricted land. So, Wyoming hopes the feds will adopt its plan for the state.

Bob Budd, executive director of the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust Board, led the meeting with a crowd of a couple dozen stakeholders. Alongside Budd were Angie Bruce, deputy director for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, and Randall Luthi, chief energy advisor to Governor Mark Gordon.

Budd said the new state revisions still maintain Wyoming’s two goals with sage grouse.

“One is to preclude the need to have the species listed,” he said.

Meaning, listed on the Endangered Species Act, as the population of the bird has declined by about 80 percent since the 1960s, putting the current worldwide population between 200,000 and 500,000. Other estimates show the population was once as high as 16 million.

Budd warned that listing could make a lot of land off limits for both recreation and industry use rather than just restrict certain development as it does now.

“We want to maintain our economic opportunity for the state of Wyoming,” Budd said.

Budd said the state wants sage grouse and energy development to coexist. Some say this is not possible, and that it causes habitat fragmentation, which is linked to the decline of the bird’s population.

“All of the action alternatives must follow the best available science, provide for consistent management across the sage grouse range, protect all remaining habitat, avoid further fragmentation, restore degraded habitat and not include “carve outs” or exceptions,” according to a letter from several conservation groups to the BLM.

Some people at the meeting were upset about the increase of proposed land restrictions – as it can place restrictions on land use. But, one Pinedale resident, Dylan Bear, felt different. He said he has noticed leks, sage grouse breeding grounds, completely disappear in his lifetime.

“I think landowners and industry have a good chance right now to step up and say we want the core areas to expand, just to help avoid the endangered listing as well,” Bear said.

Budd maintained the proposed revisions to the core area map are using the best available science, as well as longtime local knowledge – something he said he does not think the BLM has access to. He said he is hopeful the feds will adopt Wyoming’s plan into their sage grouse revisions, which are expected later this year.

Public comments on Wyoming’s updated core area map will be accepted through Friday, July 28. Click here to comment.

Editor's Note: On July 26, 2023 the copy was updated to reflect that the 16 million sage grouse estimate is a separate statistic from the 80 percent decline statistic.

Caitlin Tan is the Energy and Natural Resources reporter based in Sublette County, Wyoming. Since graduating from the University of Wyoming in 2017, she’s reported on salmon in Alaska, folkways in Appalachia and helped produce 'All Things Considered' in Washington D.C. She formerly co-hosted the podcast ‘Inside Appalachia.' You can typically find her outside in the mountains with her two dogs.
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