BLM takes steps to map sage grouse habitat

Dec 3, 2010

In an attempt to aid management of the greater sage grouse in western states, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released on Nov. 23 a range-wide breeding density map of the bird’s populations. The map identifies density of sage grouse populations across its range based on estimation of male grouse attendance at leks, the annual breeding grounds for the bird. Refinement of the map will be an ongoing process.

Development and research for the map was a collaborative effort between state and federal agencies. BLM coordinated its efforts with the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and the National Resource Conservation Service.

The map will be used to plan future management for the sage grouse, which was found last year by USFWS to be warranted for listing as a endangered species, though the listing was precluded due to the need to protect higher priority species first. The sage grouse’s warranted status will be reviewed yearly until it either receives a listing or is determined to be no longer warranted.

As individual states proceed with developing and updating sage grouse conservation plans, it is unclear exactly what impact the map will have on regional sage grouse management. In a press release, Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar alluded to potential uses that might threaten the integrity of high population sage grouse areas the map identifies.

"This map and initiative will help advance our collaborative efforts with states and stakeholders to develop smart policy to enhance the sustainability of our sage grouse populations," Salazar said. "The final map will give Interior a strong foundation to identify land uses that do not compromise areas that are so critical to the greater sage grouse."

In the report accompanying the map, "overgrazing" was listed among the potential impacts that posed challenges for "maintaining large and intact western landscapes." In a noteworthy contrast to the report, a fact sheet issued by USFWS in March explained that "habitat loss and fragmentation resulting from wildfire, energy development, urbanization, agricultural conversion, and infrastructure development are the primary threats to the species."

Grazing was not mentioned.

Striking a slightly different tone, director of BLM Bob Abbey emphasized that BLM will pursue sage grouse conservation concurrent with other multiple use goals, implying that conservation of the bird and other types of uses are compatible.

"As the federal land manager of more sage grouse habitat than any other entity, the BLM takes very seriously our commitment to working with others to manage America’s natural resources," said Abbey. "This mapping effort will help other federal and state agencies and the BLM as it carries out its multiple-use mandate. We are confident that all activities can be managed to be compatible with conservation of the sage grouse and its habitat." — Andy Rieber, WLJ Correspondent