Westerners are uncharacteristically unified in their desire for a cohesive plan to save the Greater sage-grouse, a bird that symbolizes vast expanses of western North America. But the bird’s populations are in freefall: studies show an alarming 80 percent decline in sage-grouse populations across its range since 1965, a loss of three percent annually. The West loses more than one million acres of sagebrush habitat each year to development, invasive species and wildfires and other factors.  

Developing a plan to protect Greater sage-grouse habitat – involving interests ranging from federal, state and local government to ranchers to conservationists, hunters and anglers – is complicated. The majority of the birds live on public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). That makes BLM policy and land management central to determining bird’s future. 

Before public comment closed June 13, 47,000 Audubon members submitted comments to the Bureau on proposed amendments for more than 70 resource management plans (RMPs), covering 67 million acres of BLM-managed grouse habitat. The National Audubon Society joined a letter submitted by 19 conservation organizations calling on the BLM to reverse the bird’s steep decline and to choose durable, science-based approaches from among the alternatives proposed.  

The BLM unveiled the proposed RMP amendments on March 14 as a blueprint for the management of land use and development on public lands where sage-grouse are found. Initially finalized by the BLM in 2015, those 77 RMPs were themselves the product of what’s been dubbed the largest conservation effort in history, developed in collaboration with a bi-partisan group of Western governors, conservationists, hunters and anglers, ranchers and development interests. Those plans – covering millions of acres across California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, South Dakota, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming — were never fully implemented and courts intervened, ordering the BLM to amend them to more fully include current scientific research.  

The efforts are about more than the grouse; some 350 species – from pronghorn to Golden Eagles – rely on the same, sensitive sagebrush habitat. Conserving habitat for grouse also contributes to local economies through recreational opportunities and improves the integrity and quality of rangeland for grazing.  

For more than two decades, the National Audubon Society has been at the forefront of efforts to staunch the bird’s losses — advocating for science-based solutions that protect habitat while respecting the livelihoods of those who depend on the land and pushing for strong language in state and federal conservation plans. A unified, science-based approach, taking into account state, local and Tribal interests and recognizing the needs of all stakeholders, is the key to reversing the decline of the Greater Sage-Grouse, continuing to ensure that a listing of the Greater Sage-Grouse under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) is unnecessary, and protecting this vital sagebrush ecosystem for future generations. 

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