Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, June 29, 2015

Contacts:  Erik Molvar, WildEarth Guardians, (307) 399-7910,
Travis Bruner, Western Watersheds Project, (208) 788-2290,
Randi Spivak, Center for Biological Diversity, (310) 779-4894,

Conservationists Launch Protests Against Weak Sage Grouse Plans

Feds’ Failure to Follow Science May Trigger Endangered Species Act Protections

WASHINGTON— Conservation groups filed administrative protests today against 14 federal sage grouse plans, spanning 10 western states, for failing to adequately protect the imperiled birds. The federal plans disregard the scientific consensus on what is necessary to save and restore sage grouse and instead allow excessive industrial development, including for oil and gas, and commercial use in remaining sage grouse strongholds.

The remnant populations of this once-common bird rely heavily on millions of acres of public land managed by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, and the plans will be a key factor in whether sage grouse populations recover or continue their current decline toward extinction. Under a landmark settlement resolving the backlog of imperiled species awaiting federal decisions, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has until Sept. 30 to recommend whether Endangered Species Act protection is warranted for greater sage grouse.

“The plans are a unique opportunity for federal agencies to rein in the serious threats driving the precipitous decline of sage grouse including oil and gas drilling, livestock grazing, and habitat fragmentation,” said Travis Bruner, executive director of Western Watersheds Project. “Unless the plans fully safeguard the most important remaining habitats from heavy industrial uses, Endangered Species Act protections will be triggered.”

Despite a massive effort by scientists and conservation organizations to provide a scientifically thorough blueprint for sage grouse conservation, the agencies’ proposed plans fail to limit commercial uses of the public lands to levels science shows are compatible with healthy lands and sage grouse populations.

“The Obama administration knows exactly what sage grouse need to survive and recover, but ignored the science to appease the fossil fuel industry,” said Erik Molvar, wildlife biologist with WildEarth Guardians. “The plans must be strengthened to ensure the bird and its habitat are protected.”

“Greater sage grouse need much more help than these plans provide. You can’t say you want to save these birds and then, in the next breath, recommend more oil and gas development in some of the most important places where they live,” said Randi Spivak, public lands director with the Center for Biological Diversity.

Though science shows the habitat requirements of sage grouse vary little across the West, the protections afforded the birds vary wildly from state to state in the federal plans.

“Sage grouse habitat needs don’t vary significantly from state to state, but the sage grouse plans differ wildly across state lines and even between different agencies in the same state,” said Bruner. “These radical differences in protection levels between plans reflect the whims of local politics, not the biological needs of sage grouse, and a politician’s whim can’t replace sage grouse hiding cover after it’s been chewed away by cattle.”

Certain key deficiencies occur repeatedly in every plan. For example, federal sage grouse experts recommended that all sage grouse priority habitats be closed to future oil, gas and coal leasing and withdrawn from future hard-rock mining claims. Agency experts said that for existing oil and gas leases, no industrial facilities should be sited in the nesting habitat that occurs within four miles of sage grouse breeding grounds, called leks. Not one of the federal plans adopts these science-based recommendations.

“Despite all the rhetoric about climate change, the Obama administration seems unwilling to close the door on oil and gas leasing even when the West’s most iconic bird is headed for the Endangered Species list,” said Molvar. “The administration is apparently willing to risk an ecological disaster to keep the fossil fuels pumping on our public lands.”

The protests are intended as a wake-up call for the federal agencies and an opportunity to get the planning process back on track to providing scientifically sound, enforceable protections for the most sensitive sage grouse habitats.

“The Obama administration is squandering a golden opportunity to protect an iconic species, curb destructive uses of our public lands, and rein in climate-disrupting fossil fuel development,” said Spivak. “We call on the agencies to return to the science, close the loopholes, and ensure that sage grouse and their habitats survive for future generations.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 900,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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