Crucial Companions: The Herds and the Bird

When snow blankets vegetation in the foothills and mountains, big game animals like mule deer, elk and pronghorn depend on sagebrush lands, the same habitat that sustains greater sage-grouse. Wildlife biologists point out that healthy habitat is key for healthy wildlife populations. For sportsmen and women who roam sagebrush country each fall, the connection between sage-grouse and other wildlife is clear. They know what’s good for the bird is good for the herd. That’s why they want to conserve sage-grouse and their habitat.

Montana-Sage-Grouse-Map

Sage-grouse used to number in the tens of millions across the West, but now number an estimated 200,000 to a half-million. Sage-grouse are seen as a bellwether species for the health of sagebrush lands. And sage-grouse conservation plans developed by the states, Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service with input from locals on the ground are the way forward for Western big game.

 

Sage Grouse. Photos by Bob Wick, BLM

Sage Grouse by Bob Wick, BLM

But the fate of all the work and collaboration that went into the plans is uncertain as the Trump administration considers major changes. These plans helped convince the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that sage-grouse didn’t need to be added to the endangered species list. Failure to move forward with the conservation efforts could lead to the very outcome the plans were intended to avoid – a listing of the bird and the restrictions that come with it. Governor Bullock and other Western governors have said wholesale changes to the conservation plans aren’t needed and have voiced support for focusing on sage-grouse habitat to rebuild the bird’s population

The Bureau of Land Management is collecting public comment on the sage-grouse conservation plans until December 1st. It is important that they hear from sportsmen and women from around the West. Tell them that they should give the plans a chance to work. Go to: nwf.org/beherdforthebird to take action.