Idaho Drafts New State Sage-Grouse Plan

By Joshua Rapp Learn

Sage grouse
Image Credit: Tony Morris via flickr

Idaho is working on a new draft conservation plan for the sage-grouse in an effort to keep the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from potentially listing the species under the Endangered Species Act this fall.

“We are hopeful that the effort that’s put forth by Idaho and other western states is considered by the FWS, and that ultimately they can see that there is enough rigor in those plans that they decide the listing of the species will not be necessary,” said Tom Schultz, director of Idaho Department of Lands (IDL), in a phone interview.

“We have been working here diligently in the last three to four months to come up with a plan for state lands,” Schultz continued. The draft plan will look at conservation strategies and include specific criteria for development such as the need for a one-kilometer buffer zone around greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) leks.

One the biggest factors affecting the sagebrush habitat that grouse live in are invasive species. Currently, species like medusahead rye (Taeniatherum caput-medusae) and cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) make sagebrush habitat more fire prone and dangerous for grouse, and the plan looks to put money towards controlling this issue.

The plan also explores ways in which the state agency can collaborate with other regulatory commissions in the state to develop provisions that consider sage-grouse habitat when evaluating development proposals.

The FWS is legally bound to make a decision on the greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) this September but many western states are pushing back against a potential listing of the species as it could impact energy development, ranching and other human activities.

“That decision is coming, we know that,” Schultz said. In Idaho, he said 10.5 million acres — both private and public — have been identified as sage-grouse habitat. If the bird is listed on the ESA, the development of this land could be affected by new regulations.

The comment period for the first draft plan closed on Monday, and Schultz said that the IDL will review the plan and stakeholder comments before releasing another draft.

“Initial indications have been positive that they are willing to work with us,” he said of stakeholders.

Once that’s done, another comment round will likely open up and the plan will be finalized.

“We fully expect to get our plan out there by [the listing decision],” Schultz said.

Idaho is working to produce a conservation plan for the greater sage-grouse in order to counter the need for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the species on the federal Endangered Species Act when they make a decision come September.

Joshua LearnJoshua Rapp Learn is a science writer at The Wildlife Society. Contact him at jlearn@wildlife.org with any questions or comments about his article.

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