Feds spent $77 million to protect sage grouse in Wyoming since 2010

2014-04-30T06:00:00Z Feds spent $77 million to protect sage grouse in Wyoming since 2010By BENJAMIN STORROW Star-Tribune staff writer Casper Star-Tribune Online

Wyoming landowners received nearly $77 million in federal funding during the last three years in exchange for conserving more than 1 million acres to protect sage grouse, recently released government figures show.

Those figures were hailed by policymakers in western states, who said the numbers demonstrated sage grouse could be protected through a combination of state and private efforts. Wildlife advocates countered, saying the conservation measures, while helpful, were an inadequate response to the bird's decline.

The two arguments played out before an expected announcement from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service next year over whether to list the sage grouse as an endangered species.

Lawmakers in states such as Wyoming, Colorado and Nevada are desperate to avoid federal designation of the sage grouse as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. They argue the designation would dramatically curtail the recent boom in domestic energy production by making large swaths of land unavailable to oil and gas drilling, along with other forms of mineral extraction. 

Wildlife advocates say more habitat protections are needed if the sage grouse's decline is to be reversed. 

Against that backdrop came the release Monday of figures showing landowner participation in the Natural Resource Conservation Service's Sage Grouse Initiative. The service is a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Under the initiative, the NRCS distributes funding to landowners through a variety of conservation programs. Landowners, in return, agree to place conservation easements or implement environmentally responsible land management practices on their properties. 

The release of the NRCS figures came at the request of the Western Governors' Association, a nonpartisan organization that advocates on behalf of governors in 19 western states.

In Wyoming, the numbers showed 158 landowners received $76.6 million between fiscal years 2010 and 2013 to protect 1.12 million acres.

Overall, the conservation programs spent $236 million to protect some 3.8 million acres throughout the west. The NRCS said another $107 million was invested by partners and landowners in the initiative.  

That money was used to develop grazing practices aimed at maintaining nesting cover, removing trees encroaching on historic sagebrush-steppe and securing conservation easements that prevented rangeland from being fragmented by development, NRCS Chief Jason Weller wrote the governors in an April 25 letter.  

In a posting on its website Monday, the governors' association argued the figures showed state and private efforts were more efficient at preserving sage grouse. And the group warned a potential listing could hamper landowner interest in federal conservation programs, pointing to the case of California and Nevada, where the Fish and Wildlife Service listed the bird as threatened last year. Applications in the two states to participate in the sage grouse initiative fell from 24 last fiscal year to three this fiscal year, NRCS reported.   

A similar thing could happen in Wyoming should the bird be listed, said Shawn Reese, policy director for Gov. Matt Mead. 

"There's the question of what's the point: What's the point of making these sacrifices and coming up with these plans if the service is going to list the bird?" Reese said. 

The state's core area strategy, which encompasses around 15 million acres, coupled with landowners own efforts are better suited to conserving sage grouse than the Fish and Wildlife Service, which is beset by funding challenges, Reese said. 

Erik Molvar of WildEarth Guardians, an environmental group, disagreed. Sage grouse numbers have fallen precipitously since 2006, despite the state's strategy and landowners participation in federal conservation programs, Molvar said.

A January report by Wyoming Game and Fish found the number of sage-grouse males observed on leks statewide fell from 44,500 in 2006 to around 18,000 in 2013.

"Tell me how throwing money at that is putting a dent in this massive decline?" Molvar said. "What we really need to do is stop destroying sage grouse habitat."   

Reach energy reporter Benjamin Storrow at 307-335-5344 or Follow him on Twitter @bstorrow

Copyright 2015 Casper Star-Tribune Online. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(4) Comments

  1. jonebgood
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    jonebgood - May 01, 2014 2:15 pm
    That's a lot of wasted money. So if habitat improvements have not increased populations, how then is habitat degradation the cause of their decline? Why then does Idaho, without a single oil or gas well in the entire state, have a sharper decline in populations than Wyoming? Probably because they have these common factors: 1. West Nile Virus 2. Predation 3. Extended Drought. The SG 9 Plan does little to address these causal factors, so i give it 3 years before the bird's listed.
  2. enjuneer
    Report Abuse
    enjuneer - April 30, 2014 10:34 am
    Most of the "endangered species" stuff spoon fed to the BLM from the radical environmental groups is cooked shallow minded data and wild eyed junk science with the goal of having "biodiversity corridors with little or no human intervention" cutting a wide swath through the Rocky Mountains from Mexico to Canada. Preble's Jumping mouse, pygmy rabbits, the desert tortoise, black tailed prairie dogs and sage grouse are examples of pure environmental nonsense. In December 2013, I attended a BLM presentation on the sage grouse. Several factors were listed as being the root cause of the loss of Sage Grouse populations, including most everything that required humans, except of course the hunting of Sage grouse, which is not considered a part of the BLM’s sage grouse studies. I asked the presenter at least 3 times, with the region grand poobah sitting next to me what the sage grouse hunting harvest was in the same areas they were saying the sage grouse population was being hurt because of human activity. The only answer I got out of them was that they don't track hunter's sage grouse harvests. I suspect that is because they don't want to go up against the Rocky Mountain States game and fish commissions, who actually are on top of the real science.

    The time and place of the presentation was:
    WGA luncheon, Friday, December 6, 2013
    George Soehn,
    Bureau of Land Management
    "Greater Sage-Grouse Life History and A Summary of BLM High Plains Management Direction. WGA stands for Wyoming Geologic Association".

    Along with 60 to 70 geoscientists and engineers, there were about 10-12 BLM representatives attending the meeting, including the region supervisor. Even though 3 or 4 BLM people jumped into the QA discussion, not one of them could tell me why they don't consider hunting harvests in their studies. The Wyoming Game and Fish has the Sage Grouse harvest from each year since 1991 on their website. If I ever get a chance to attend a BLM Sage Grouse presentation again, I will have about 500 handouts of the game and fish Sage Grouse takes in Wyoming that I will be handing out. It's substantial, but the BLM doesn't have the gonads to deal with real science, so Sage Grouse hunting is allowed in most, if not all the Rocky Mountain states, even though the BLM is trying to use the "endangered" sage grouse as a means of shutting down as much human intervention on BLM lands as they can. The King's forest if you will. Talk about junk science on steroids. The BLM is using this horse hocky to formulate a long term environmental plan for about 1/4 of the land contained inside the US. The long term plan of course, will attempt to make it much more difficult for the next President to overturn it.
  3. WyoBob
    Report Abuse
    WyoBob - April 30, 2014 9:03 am
    So what does WildEarth Guardians think is the solution? Listing the sage grouse will do more harm to the species than it will help them. The article mentions what has happened in Nevada and California.
    If extreme environmental groups sincerely cared about the species they would be looking for solutions not potential litigation; however, that seems to be their only motivation in the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Litigation lines their pockets with money, all at the expense of recovery of the species.
  4. Todd
    Report Abuse
    Todd - April 30, 2014 6:57 am
    We shouldn't get our hopes up. Unfortunately listing means money and power for the non profits, and we have seen with the Keystone delays who the president supports.
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