Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, September 22, 2015

Contact: Randi Spivak, (310) 779-4894,

Obama Administration Refuses Protection for West's Iconic Sage Grouse

DENVER, Colo.— The Obama administration today refused to provide Endangered Species Act protection to greater sage grouse — an iconic bird of the American West threatened with extinction by fossil fuel development, livestock grazing, off-road vehicles and other human impacts. Today’s decision instead relies on half-measures and generally weak management plans that disregard recommendations from federal and other scientists about the most important ways to keep sage grouse safe from harm and return to healthy, sustainable populations.

“Greater sage grouse have been in precipitous decline for years and deserve better than what they’re getting from the Obama administration,” said Randi Spivak with the Center for Biological Diversity. “While there are some important improvements for sage grouse in the new federal land-management plans, they still ultimately fall short of what’s needed to ensure these birds’ long-term survival.”

Among the areas where the plans fall short are in Wyoming, where 40 percent of remaining sage grouse populations reside and oil and gas drilling is allowed within 0.6 miles of sage grouse mating areas, while the best science calls for 4-mile protective buffers. The Bureau of Land Management also ignores the threat livestock present to sage grouse, in particular by facilitating the spread of cheat grass that facilitates uncharacteristic wildfires.

“If greater sage grouse in the West are going to survive and thrive, we should be following the recommendations of the federal government’s own scientists. Unfortunately that hasn’t happened on a large enough scale with this decision,” Spivak said. “There’s no question that the Obama administration put an enormous amount of work into this process and it deserves credit for that. But in the end this decision seems more based on political science than biological science.”

As many as 16 million greater sage grouse once ranged across 297 million acres of sagebrush grasslands in the western United States. Over the past two centuries, however, development, livestock grazing and — more recently — oil and gas drilling have reduced sage grouse populations to just several hundred thousand birds. In the face of ongoing habitat destruction and other threats, the species’ population continues to steadily decline.

Sagebrush steppe is one of the most imperiled ecosystems in North America due to oil and gas development, livestock grazing, roads and fragmentation. Yet only 3 percent of the sagebrush ecosystem is protected by strong conservation designations. Protecting the greater sage grouse also means helping to protect more than 300 other sensitive species — including pronghorn and pygmy rabbits — and the great open spaces of the West.

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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