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BOISE, ID, Aug. 2, 2019 – The U.S. Forest Service followed the Bureau of Land Management’s lead this week in announcing proposed plans to gut existing protections for greater sage-grouse, despite the bird’s continuing downward spiral in population numbers and increasing threats to its habitats on public lands. The agency hasn’t yet unveiled the actual plans, leaving the public in the dark about the specific actions it plans to take to achieve the stated goals of allowing “greater flexibility and local control” of sage-grouse management across 5.4 million acres of greater sage-grouse habitat in Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado.
“The Forest Service’s sage-grouse amendments follow this Administration’s master plan: weaken regulations, hamstring enforceability, ignore the science, and the sage-grouse be damned,” said Erik Molvar, executive director of Western Watersheds Project.
The Forest Service today released a brief summary sketching out the types of proposed changes the new plans will include. These include removing the most important protective measures relating to livestock grazing, aligning the federal plans with industry-friendly state agendas, and getting rid of the previous plans’ “net conservation gain” requirement in favor of a “no net loss” strategy.
“The sage-grouse plans of 2015 were supposed to apply just enough protection that no Endangered Species Act protection would be needed,” said Greta Anderson of Western Watersheds Project. “With every change the Trump Administration makes, those delusions of the plans adequacy fade away.”
The plans are likely to fundamentally undermine the protective measures applied to livestock grazing under the 2015 plans. Rather than setting grass height requirements to aid sage-grouse during nesting and brood-rearing periods – a critical point in the sage-grouse lifecycle – the plans instead are expected to adopt vague and unenforceable language, turning over conservation decisions to livestock permittees. The new plans are also expected allow livestock-related disturbance, such as stock tanks and windmills, to be built closer to occupied grouse leks, the dancing grounds that are the hub of nesting activity, increasing the likelihood of impacts from predators to the young birds.
“These types of conservation rollbacks are in part a response to the President’s Executive Order issued last Dec. 27, demanding an end to multiple use management of the National Forests in favor of resource extraction,” said Molvar. “Citizens need to speak out for their public lands and endangered wildlife like sage grouse before these proposed changes cause irreparable harm.”