The Greater Sage-Grouse is an iconic bird associated with the sagebrush landscapes of the West and its health is considered an indicator of the health of the landscape. Over the last 100 years, the population and range of the species have diminished significantly, and the species was found warranted for listing under the Endangered Species Act in 2010. In large part, the decline of the species mirrors the steady loss and deterioration of sage-grouse habitat. The sage-steppe ecosystem is considered one of the most imperiled in North America and faces many severe threats.
Because the majority of remaining Greater Sage-Grouse habitat overlaps with land managed by BLM and USFS, the long-term survival of the species rests largely on management choices by federal agencies for public lands. In addition, “development on private lands, which is not subject to mitigation, will focus greater needs for conservation of sage-grouse and sagebrush on public lands.”
The proposed mineral withdrawal derives its purpose and need in part from the need to address the March 2010 ‘warranted, but precluded’ Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) determination for the greater sage grouse, the 2013 Conservation Objectives report, and the USFWS memorandum of October 27, 2014. Importantly, “the USFWS found that current application of BLM and Forest Service regulatory authorities falls short of meeting the conservation needs of the species.”
In 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) made the determination that listing the Greater Sage Grouse was no longer warranted. (80 Fed. Reg. 59857). Yet, the USFWS explicitly relied upon the proposed mineral withdrawal in its 2015 finding that the greater sage grouse was “not warranted.”
It is therefore imperative that the Department of Interior follow through on the SFA mineral withdrawals in an equal or greater measure compared to those on which the USFWS relied to make their listing determination.
We support a mineral withdrawal for important sage grouse habitats that is as strong, comprehensive, and as geographically extensive as is necessary to guarantee the maintenance and recovery of sage grouse in the most densely occupied remaining habitats.