The Biden administration announced today that it will consider new measures to conserve the greater sage-grouse, a bird once found across much of the U.S. West that has suffered drastic declines due to development, agriculture, oil and gas drilling, climate change, wildfires and other pressures.
“We applaud the Biden administration’s announcement that it will consider new measures to protect the greater sage-grouse,” said Vera Smith, Defenders of Wildlife senior policy lands analyst. “This once prolific bird of the interior West continues to be in serious trouble, having declined by nearly 40% in the last two decades. We look forward to working with the administration and other stakeholders to chart a scientifically sound path to its recovery and the conservation of its sagebrush habitat.”
The sage-grouse needs large expanses of healthy sagebrush grasslands and functioning hydrologic systems to survive and flourish. Conserving sage-grouse benefits a host of other species in the Sagebrush Sea, including hundreds of at-risk wildlife and plant species, including a number that are federally listed as threatened and endangered.
In 2015, federal land management agencies and 10 western states participated in and agreed to a landscape-scale planning process that identified high priority habitat for the greater sage-grouse specifically. The agreement however was undermined by the Bureau of Land Management under the Trump administration that, among other things, leased millions of acres of important habitat for energy development. In March, the U.S. Geological Survey published research that showed that greater sage-grouse populations have suffered an 80% range-wide decline since 1965 and a nearly 40% decline since 2002. The greater sage-grouse population now is less than a quarter of what it was more than 50 years ago.
Given the geological survey’s findings and updated climate science, it is not clear that the 2015 conservation agreement, had it been given the chance to play out, would have been sufficient to stop and reverse the greater sage-grouse population decline.
Defenders has worked for many years to conserve the Sagebrush Sea for the greater sage-grouse and myriad other at-risk species that live there.