Sage-grouse core areas expanded

WYOMING’S SAGE-GROUSE IMPLEMENTATION TEAM is recommending the state expand the area it designates as “core” sage-grouse habitat.

These recommendations will likely be the group’s final product, and they are intended to guide state policy related to sage-grouse for the next five years.

The team, created by Gov. Dave Freudenthal in 2007, is calling for Wyoming to add about 470 square miles of land to its designated “core population area” for Greater sage-grouse, for which the group has generated an updated map outlining the proposed areas.

Under executive order, Wyoming’s governor has recommended strong protections for core sage-grouse habitat in an attempt to maintain or enhance current grouse populations in these areas.

The idea of protecting “core” areas is based on the fact that more than 80 percent of Wyoming’s sage-grouse population live in these areas, so if land managers protect the core habitat, they’ll protect more than 80 percent of the birds.

Sage-grouse populations have plummeted in recent decades, and today more than half of the world’s remaining Greater sage-grouse live in Wyoming.

Wyoming has developed its “core area” approach under the looming threat that the bird could be listed by the federal government as an endangered species.

In March, the Interior Department classified the Greater sage-grouse as “warranted but precluded” from protections under the federal Endangered Species Act. This designation is basically an acknowledgment that a species is in dire straits, but with limited resources at the federal level—in a triage situation—other species are taking precedent.

OUTDOOR COUNCIL SUPPORTS THE ‘CORE AREA’ APPROACH

During a press conference on Tuesday, Freudenthal lamented the fact that several environmental groups have filed lawsuits over the bird’s status, attempting to get sage-grouse protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.

“They’re suing while we’re doing the work,” Freudenthal said. “We’re doing what they should be doing–conserving–but they’d rather litigate than fix anything,” he said.

To be fair, however, while some environmental groups are party to the sage-grouse litigation, others support the efforts of the governor’s sage-grouse team, and indeed have participated in the team’s work.

The Wyoming Outdoor Council, for example, Wyoming’s largest independent conservation organization, supports the governor’s “core areas” approach for preserving sage-grouse. And the Council is not engaging in any lawsuit related to the species’ federal status.


The Greater sage-grouse. Photo by Scott Copeland.

Still, Freudenthal cited the threat of litigation as at least one impetus for developing a strong state-led management scheme.

“We’re going to be sued over and over and over again so you have to have a strategy that lasts and is sufficient to withstand litigation,” Freudenthal said.

This strategy includes three top priorities, according to the governor’s office: (1) A finalization of the bird’s core areas. (2) Stipulations for sage-grouse management by business interests, such as oil and gas developers, inside and outside of the core areas. And (3) identification of “connectivity” areas that ensure the birds can move between different areas and preserve their genetic integrity.

“If you’re looking at conservation and you can actually identify and conserve 83.1 percent of a species … in roughly 25 percent of the state’s land mass, that is a good sign,” said Bob Budd, who chairs the governor’s sage-grouse team.

But, as Freudenthal pointed out, the policy resulting from the sage-grouse team’s recommendations is potentially tenuous. When he leaves office in 2011, the new governor could have the option of discarding the entire “core areas” approach and ignoring the sage-grouse team’s recommendations.

“This is an effort and a policy that is peculiarly dependent on whoever is governor,” Freudenthal said. “This policy’s in place, it is underway, the sage-grouse working group created their recommendations. We hope that these recommendations will be the guide for the next five years, which is what [the team believes] it’s going to take to get things stabilized in the core areas, as well as get some other research done. That may or may not [come to fruition], frankly, depending on who’s governor. And it is [also] dependent on the legislative and executive branch support going forward.”

Click here or on the map above to see the latest sage-grouse core areas map, as recommended by Gov. Dave Freduenthal’s Sage Grouse Implementation Team on June 29 2010.

Click here to read the Sage Grouse Implementation Team’s final recommendations for stipulations for development in core sage-grouse areas.

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