Sage Grouse

A male sage grouse struts in April on a lek in southern Natrona County.

Alan Rogers, Star-Tribune

The tumult over sage grouse management in recent months appears to have calmed, but in a recent letter Sen. John Barrasso reminded the feds once again to avoid controversial strategies for managing the imperiled bird, like setting population targets.

Sage grouse management is in flux this year, after the Interior Department opened up more than 90 management plans concerning the bird for review and potential revision. The two-year-old plans were the result of years of collaboration, particularly in Wyoming, on best practices for keeping the bird from being listed as an Endangered Species.

Managing the bird by population, as is done with some species but scientists don’t recommend for grouse, does not compliment Wyoming’s way of doing things, the senator implied in his letter.

The senator’s words of caution echo similar sentiments from the environmental community and Gov. Matt Mead, and they are in response to both the favorable attitude towards population targets from Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke and an Interior review of the sage grouse plans published in August.

The senator does not take any other clear positions in the letter, listing instead the various and sometimes competing approaches to handling the bird’s decline. He advocates for the need for consistency across the bird’s 11-state range, but flexibility for the diversity of interests in each state. He also asks Interior to respect the established reasons for the bird’s declines, while exploring innovative strategies.

Barrasso notes Wyoming’s decision to allow a captive breeding program as an example of a creative approach, echoing the Interior secretary’s interest in farming sage grouse. Wyoming’s governor and most wildlife biologists discourage breeding the bird in captivity as a solution to its decline.

The senator’s comments arrive just weeks after sage grouse leaders said the feds were coming around to Wyoming’s point of view and taking a more measured approach to changing federal management plans than was originally thought.

The deadline for public comment on changes to the Forest Service’s rendition of the federal plans is Jan. 5. Changes have also been proposed to controversial rules in U.S. Fish and Wildlife policies and most of all, in the Bureau of Land Management plans.

Follow energy reporter Heather Richards on Twitter @hroxaner

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Energy Reporter

Heather Richards writes about energy and the environment. A native of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, she moved to Wyoming in 2015 to cover natural resources and government in Buffalo. Heather joined the Star Tribune later that year.

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