Zinke orders review of sage grouse conservation plans

By Jamila Blake

©Bob Wick, BLM

On Jun. 8, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke signed Secretarial Order 3353 (Greater Sage-Grouse Conservation and Cooperation with Western States). With the Order, the U.S. Department of the Interior will establish a Sage-Grouse Review Team to work on improving sage-grouse conservation efforts and enhancing collaboration between state and federal conservation plans and programs.

State and federal agencies have both contributed to sage-grouse conservation efforts for several years. In 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined the greater sage-grouse to be warranted but precluded for listing under the Endangered Species Act because of higher priority listing actions. A deadline of Sept. 30, 2015 was set for USFWS to propose listing or remove the sage-grouse from the Candidate List. In 2011, the State-Federal Sage-Grouse Task Force was established with representatives from the 11 western states containing sage-grouse, the USFWS, Bureau of Land Management, Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Geological Society, and Interior. This Task Force, works to “identify and implement high priority conservation actions and integrate ongoing actions necessary to preclude the need for the sage-grouse to be listed under the ESA.”

In Oct. 2015, USFWS found that the greater sage-grouse did not warrant listing under the ESA following several collaborative efforts to conserve the species, including amendments and revisions to 98 BLM and USFS federal land use plans involving sage-grouse conservation — completed in Sept. 2015. These 2015 Sage-Grouse Plans will be at the center of the review process.

The Sage-Grouse Review Team is to be composed of professionals from BLM, USFWS, and USGS. The Team will also engage with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and USFS. The Order directs the Team to review the 2015 Sage-Grouse Plans and associated policies; examine issues associated with invasive grasses and wildland fire — two of the main threats to sagebrush habitat; evaluate disproportionately impacted States with large percentages of public lands; consider resource development and sage-grouse conservation — aligning with Secretarial Order 3349 (American Energy Independence); and provide recommendations as appropriate. The Order stipulates that the Team will provide a summary of the review within 60 days of the date the Order was issued.

In a press release Zinke said, “As we move forward with implementation of our strategy for sage-grouse conservation, we want to make sure that we do so first and foremost in consultation with state and local governments, and in a manner that allows both wildlife and local economies to thrive. There are a lot of innovative ideas out there. I don’t want to take anything off the table when we talk about a plan.”

Jamila Blake is a policy intern at The Wildlife Society as part of the Government Affairs & Partnership program. Read more of Jamila's articles here.