Protecting a Unique Western Icon
Spring in Idaho’s sagebrush steppe brings about a spectacular scene: the mating dance of greater sage-grouse. Sage-grouse males gather together on dancing grounds called leks for the equivalent of an avian dance-off while the females look on and feign disinterest. Sage-grouse habitat also supports over 350 plant and wildlife species, including mule deer, pronghorns and golden eagles.
Sage-grouse are also imperiled. Sage-grouse need large areas of healthy sagebrush habitat, and these places are rapidly disappearing due to wildfires, invasive species and development. Sage-grouse habitat has shrunk to 50% of its original acreage and the population is thought to be less than 5% of historic numbers. Rangewide, sage-grouse are declining at 1% per year.
The Idaho Conservation League has a long history of working on sage-grouse conservation. We have worked with ranchers, sportsmen and women, bird watchers, government agencies and energy companies to protect and restore habitat for sage-grouse and other species. We have served on the Idaho Sage-grouse Advisory Committee, which coordinates conservation efforts, as well as the Governor’s Sage-grouse Task Force and will continue to participate as needed.
In addition to the threats of wildfire, invasive species and development, sage-grouse populations could be harmed by a new threat — special interests who have the ear of the current administration. Extractive industries want to be able to develop projects in sage-grouse habitat, eliminate mitigation requirements, shrink buffers around leks, and lower standards for development. The current administration is reopening sage-grouse plans with these changes in mind.
We are opposed to any changes in the sage-grouse plans that are not science-based and that could fragment coordination among communities and local, state and federal land managers. To keep sage-grouse part of Idaho’s landscape into the future, we must continue an “all hands, all lands” approach. The partnerships built so far are crucial for sage-grouse conservation and we need to see these efforts expand. For this to be a true conservation success story, all parties need to keep working on behalf of sage-grouse and healthy sagebrush habitat.
Any adjustments in the plan will need to provide additional resources so folks can do the work of protecting and restoring sage-grouse habitat.