In late November, the Forest Service published a Notice of Intent to reconsider its plans for sage-grouse management in the west. These land management plans, adopted in 2015, were the result of unprecedented collaboration of diverse stakeholder groups and rely on sound science for determining how the sagebrush ecosystem should be managed. The Alliance believes that reopening the plans for wholesale changes not only undermines the hard work and long hours put in by the stakeholder groups, but also poses a detrimental threat to the sage-grouse and their sagebrush ecosystem.
A key component to the review opened up by the Forest Service is to potentially switch management from habitat-based plans to a focus on maintaining sage-grouse populations through a number of means, including captive breeding. On this topic, the science is clear: captive breeding programs are ineffective in maintaining viable sage-grouse populations. Managing and protecting sage-grouse habitat, with a focus on core areas, gives management agencies the best chance at keeping sage-grouse from a listing under the Endangered Species Act.
Commissioned by the Alliance through our Research Fund, the forthcoming State of Wildlife Report highlights the importance of sage-grouse and the sagebrush ecosystem in the Jackson Hole valley. The sagebrush steppe provides critical habitat for not only sage-grouse, but also an estimated 350 other species. In Teton County alone, researchers estimate that we have lost approximately 45% of our historic sage-grouse populations. A switch to population-based management could have irreversible effects and would direct resources away from critical habitat protection.
The 2015 plans acknowledged the role that sound science plays in allowing agencies to effectively manage core habitat and breeding areas. At the Alliance, we believe that wildlife and their habitats should be managed based on science, facts, and data without political interference. Adaptive management should be applied to the 2015 plans as new science becomes available, but the reconsideration of the plans as proposed by the Forest Service could lead to wholesale changes, undermining the years of hard work and successful collaboration done at the local level.
Wyoming has long been a leader in sage-grouse management. The 2015 plans should be celebrated as collaborative management success stories, not opened for wholesale changes.