Federal Decision to List Greater Sage-Grouse for Protection
In a decision published in March of 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (the Service) determined that the Greater Sage-Grouse is warranted for listing under the Endangered Species Act, but deferred the actual listing process based on greater needs of other species. The decision to defer is set for review in 2015.
Greater Sage-Grouse live in sagebrush environments in eleven western states and occupy habitat extending over about 14 percent of Utah in a very scattered pattern.
The Service identified habitat fragmentation as the primary reason for its decision to list Greater Sage-Grouse for protection. It described numerous factors contributing to fragmentation, including economic activities (i.e. renewable and nonrenewable energy development), grazing, recreation, and natural events, such as wildfires.
Utah’s Conservation Plan for Greater Sage-Grouse
Addressing this potentially far-reaching listing decision, Governor Herbert chartered a broad-based Working Group in early 2012 to provide recommendations for a State Conservation Plan for Greater Sage-Grouse. Governor Herbert announced completion of the Plan in April of 2013 as the Group delivered its recommendations. The Plan builds upon and continues the State’s work to protect Sage-Grouse, which has been underway for the past 15 years. As part of this effort, Utah has spent millions of state and federal dollars to improve more than 500,000 acres of habitat. Annual objectives of the Plan include:
- protecting 10,000 acres of the best Sage-Grouse habitat
- enhancing 25,000 acres of existing Sage-Grouse habitat
- increasing the total amount of Sage-Grouse habitat by 50,000 acres
The Group reviewed information from many sources, including detailed local biological and land use information provided by ten existing Local Working Groups (which have been coordinating efforts to protect and conserve Greater Sage-Grouse since 1996), information from the livestock and energy industries, conservation groups, and others.
Greater Sage-Grouse conservation in Utah is a complicated effort involving different lands. As the chart shows, private lands comprise about 41 percent of habitat, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) administered lands cover another 34 percent, U.S. Forest Service lands total 10 percent, School and Institutional Trust Land Administration (SITLA) lands make up 8 percent, Ute tribal lands cover 5 percent, and other state and federal agencies’ lands cover the remainder.
Why Is It a Good Plan?
- The Plan is comprehensive and proactive.
- It provides incentive-based protections on private, local government, and SITLA lands.
- It includes reasonable cooperative regulations on other state and federally owned lands.
- It protects habitat necessary for the year-round life-cycle needs of the species, eliminates threats, and perpetuates conditions for continuing a viable Greater Sage-Grouse population in Utah.
- It envisions a concerted effort to increase the size of the habitat base through aggressive rehabilitation efforts.
Executive Order Implementing Utah’s Conservation Plan
On February 10, 2015, Governor Gary Herbert signed an Executive Order implementing the Utah Conservation Plan for the Greater Sage-grouse. The Order ensures state agencies will conform with the Conservation Plan and make management and policy decisions that “maintain, improve and enhance Greater Sage-Grouse habitat.” State agencies will continue to work with federal agencies to assure the conservation needs of the bird.
Review and Implementation
The State has submitted the Plan to the Service for its opinion on sufficiency of the conservation provisions. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been reviewing Utah’s Conservation Plan since February 2013. The first implementation steps are underway, including:
- coordinating the Plan’s objectives with the Natural Resources Conservation Service
- aligning the Plan’s objectives with the Resource Management Plan amendments under review by the BLM and the U.S. Forest Service
- creating the Mitigation Bank with the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Agriculture and Food to keep a coordinated tally of development proposals, along with offsetting rehabilitation and mitigation efforts to meet conservation objectives (private landowners may receive assistance to participate in this effort)
Utah’s Conservation Plan in Action
The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, alongside PLPCO, is responsible for implementing Utah’s Conservation Plan. The 2014 Annual Report shows Utah’s sage-grouse are responding positively and the population has been cycling up over the last three years. Each of the Conservation Plan’s objectives are currently exceeding expectations. Utah’s male sage-grouse population ten-year rolling average is 101% of plan objectives. In fiscal year 2014, Utah added 240,000 acres of conservation projects to benefit sage-grouse, meeting the required addition of 50,000 acres of habitat and improvement of 25,000 acres of habitat each year.
For more information, please visit the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources website, here.
- Governor’s Executive Order Implementing the Utah Conservation Plan for Greater Sage-Grouse (2015)
- 2014 Annual Report: Implementing Utah’s Greater Sage-grouse Conservation Plan
- Western Governor’s Association Sage-Grouse Inventory: 2014 Conservation Initiatives
- Conservation Plan for Greater Sage-Grouse in Utah (2013)
- Utah Greater Sage-Grouse Management Plan (2009)
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Governor’s News Release (2013)