In a letter sent to key House and Senate appropriations negotiators, environmental groups recently urged that language used to prohibit the greater sage-grouse from being given Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections be omitted from this year’s final bill language.
More than 100 conservation groups, including Defenders of Wildlife, wrote to key appropriators to express concern over the rider. This controversial rider has been included in Interior bill language since 2014, and it restricts the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) from listing the species under the Endangered Species Act.
“Our nation and our planet face an extinction crisis of epic proportions”, the groups said in the letter. “It is long past time for Congress to allow the FWS to do its job and to finally stop denying protections to this iconic keystone species.”
Between 2015 and 2019, sage-grouse populations in Utah, Wyoming and Idaho have dropped 61%, 41%, and 42%, respectively. While some attribute this to natural population cycles, leading sage-grouse experts disagree and are expressing serious concern about the bird’s future.
In addition to habitat loss from oil and gas development, a record-setting wildfire season has placed bird populations in Washington state in serious jeopardy. Wildlife managers reported that the Pearl Hill fire burned over half the active areas where sage-grouse males court females in the state’s endangered population in Douglas County.
The FWS found that the greater sage-grouse warranted protection under the ESA in 2010, leading the Obama administration to collaborate with states to establish the National Greater Sage-Grouse Planning Strategy to protect the species. Meanwhile, the Trump administration has rolled back many of the federal land use protections set in place after 2010 and has leased millions of acres of core sage-grouse habitat for oil and gas development.
Congress should remove this rider from the appropriations bill and allow FWS to do its job to protect the sage-grouse before it’s too late.