Let’s Honor Our Promises: Protect Sage-Grouse

Sage Grouse. Photos by Bob Wick, BLMPhoto Credit:Bob Wick, BLM

Montana’s sage-grouse season opens Sept. 1 and runs through the month, closing Sept. 30. The fact that there is a hunting season at all is a testament to the conservation work that has been done in Montana. Sage-grouse populations struggle when their habitat is fragmented. Impacts from energy development and the conversion of sagebrush steppe habitat to cropland are bigger threats than any of the bird’s natural predators. However, decades of efforts at monitoring sage grouse and conserving their habitat in Montana has paid off. Last August, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided the bird didn’t warrant listing on the Endangered Species List because of the ongoing conservation work in Montana and throughout their range.

Here in Montana, the sage brush habitat that the bird resides is also the habitat that produces our world class game. Mule deer, elk, antelope, and hundreds of non-game species rely on the same intact habitat. The unparalleled efforts of ranchers, conservation groups, federal land managers and the state working together on habitat conservation is the primary reason why we have kept the greater sage-grouse under state management. The state and federal plans have the ability to adapt to changing circumstances and science, while ensuring the best path forward to achieving abundant populations of the bird and better management of our public lands. The plans for the Bureau of Land Management in the Billings, Hi Line and Miles City regions outline a comprehensive framework to guide future management decisions for all resource values and program areas, while addressing threats to the sage-grouse. The plans focus protections on the areas of highest importance to the species. They are being implemented with input from local working groups and in coordination with the Montana Sage Grouse Oversight Team.

While keeping the bird from being listed under the Endangered Species Act was a huge win for us all, it was only the starting point. Now, all the stakeholders in Montana that kept the bird from being listed a year ago, must follow through with the commitments we made to other western states and our partners in the federal government. We need to live up to our end of the bargain.

Senator Steve Daines and Congressman Ryan Zinke have both criticized the BLM sage-grouse plans and called for funding cuts and delays. Montanans cannot afford to roll back all the work that has been done to protect and enhance the bird and its habitat. Instead of criticizing the BLM plans and setting them up to fail, we need to roll our sleeves and work together with creative ideas. If we succeed, we will be able to protect working farms and ranches and have hunting seasons for this iconic bird for years to come. That’s a win for us all.

John Bradley is Montana Wildlife Federation’s Eastern Field Rep. based in Billings. He can be reached at jbradley@mtwf.org