In a letter addressed to top House and Senate appropriators, Defenders of Wildlife along with 79 other groups are asking for the removal of an appropriations rider leftover from previous years prohibiting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) from considering greater sage-grouse for protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
“This rider is an assault on the ESA and its science-based framework,” said Mary Beth Beetham, Director of Legislative Affairs at Defenders of Wildlife. “Congress should not be micro-managing decisions on whether to protect individual species that should be based on science, not politics. We urge Congress to finally put the conservation of the endangered sage-grouse over oil and gas interests and remove this unnecessary rider from appropriations language.”
Sage-grouse populations have experienced sharp declines in recent years. Montana’s population fell more than 40 percent between 2016-2019; Utah has seen a 61 percent drop since 2015; and Wyoming’s sage-grouse population dropped 21 percent between 2018-2019, while the state has counted 44 percent fewer birds since 2016. Idaho reported a loss of 52 percent since 2016; Nevada’s 2019 lek counts found a 33 percent decline from 2016; and Oregon’s estimated population suffered a 24.9 percent decline in just one year.
Development of the Sagebrush Sea, prime grouse habitat, has caused the species to lose nearly half of its range. The public lands the grouse needs are also vital to local communities and economies, which draw in tourism and recreational opportunities.
Since 2017, the BLM has leased over 2.8 million acres of sage grouse habitat for oil and gas development. Forty-two % (~1.2 million acres) of the leased acres fall within Priority Sage Grouse Habitat.
“Protecting the sage-grouse goes hand in hand with protecting Western communities and economies that rely on the health of the grouse and the Sagebrush Sea,” said Beetham.
Congress has continuously passed annual appropriations riders blocking FWS from carrying out its basic responsibilities under the ESA concerning greater sage-grouse since 2014. It is essential that Congress allow FWS scientists to do their job in light of the bird’s continuing decline and endangerment.