Feds Credit Wyoming With Sage Grouse Recovery Plan

Sep 23, 2015

In Tuesday’s announcement that the greater sage grouse will not be listed as an endangered species, the state of Wyoming got a lot of the credit by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Director Dan Ashe who said the state's strategy for bringing the bird back from the brink showed long range vision.

“I have to point out singularly the leadership from the state of Wyoming in designing the Core Area Strategy back in 2008. Because it was Wyoming’s leadership that showed us what was possible for sage grouse conservation.”

In 2008, then-Governor Dave Freudenthal signed an executive order protecting millions of acres of sage grouse breeding areas in Wyoming. This summer, Governor Matt Mead revised and strengthened that executive order.

“I’ll tell you, the plan’s working. The average number of male grouse per lek in Wyoming was up 66 percent in 2015 compared to 2014.”

Critics of Wyoming’s sage grouse plan say the bird's numbers are still declining when viewed over decades.

In U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell's announcement, she said the efforts on behalf of the greater sage grouse have changed how conservation will be done into the future.

“So this epic, science-based, landscape level collaboration is the future of conservation. It won’t be as complicated next time around because we’ve paved the way with this.”

Mead agreed, saying he plans to propose reforms that would make collaboration more central to the Endangered Species Act.

“As we look at the Endangered Species Act and how it’s working, how it’s not working, let me just say this collaborative effort is a model.”

But Wild Earth Guardian’s Erik Molvar says that’s a mistake. He says too much collaboration could water down the strength of the Endangered Species Act.

“Conservation measures become much more wishy-washy in terms of whether they’re actually implemented in a very rigorous way because state governments know that they’re not as legally accountable as federal agencies that have to obey federal laws.”

Molvar says in not listing the sage grouse, the federal government yielded to political pressure at the expense of the bird. He says the faulty science used in the federal plans for sage grouse protections likely mean wildlife groups like his will fight the decision in court.