According to plan: Habitat conservation, multiple use & sustained yield

by Heather Feeney, Public Affairs Specialist 
Photos courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The BLM is committed to reversing long-term downward trends in Greater sage-grouse populations through sustainable management of their habitat in sagebrush ecosystems, which in turn benefits hundreds of other species, as well as public land users and local communities across the West. 

Greater sage-grouse and cattle appear on a ridge above a powerline and buildings
Sagebrush-steppe lands provide a variety of resources. USFWS/Katie Theule

Conservation measures in the 2015 sage-grouse management plans connect habitat conditions with the range of potential uses for the lands designated as habitat management areas.

During rounds of land use planning like the one currently underway, we set goals for the condition and function of the public lands within habitat management areas in order for them to support sage-grouse populations. At the same time we recognize other uses for these lands and evaluate how those uses might affect their function as habitat.

Then, we develop conservation measures aimed at balancing responsible use and development with durable habitat conservation. Certain measures are directly related to sage-grouse biology: human disturbance and density caps limit the extent of activity at any given time in priority habitat, and lek buffers avoid disrupting seasonal breeding and nesting. 

Greater sage-grouse gather at a lek.
Greater sage-grouse return to flat, open areas called leks each spring to breed and nest. USFWS/Jeannie Stafford

Other measures relate to specific resource uses: siting criteria can steer large infrastructure projects away from habitat; developers of wind or solar energy projects may be required to avoid habitat areas, or these projects may be excluded from a habitat area altogether. Oil, gas and geothermal energy leases may come with stipulations that limit timing of development activity, control use of the surface in other ways, or disallow occupancy entirely.

Livestock grazing permits may be issued with terms and conditions. Travel within and across designated habitat areas can be limited to existing routes or closed when it’s determined to be too disruptive. Recommending withdrawal from location and entry under mining laws can protect certain high-value habitat, subject to existing rights and after environmental effects are fully analyzed

Pronghorn antelope and natural gas wells in sagebrush-steppe
The sagebrush habitat that supports sage-grouse also supports other wildlife and energy production. BLM-Wyoming

Mitigation can avoid, minimize and compensate for impacts while preserving flexibility in authorizing multiple uses.

We’re evaluating the effectiveness of the conservation measures now in use, to consider what else we might do to help improve outcomes for sage-grouse. Applying the latest science in continuing cooperation with state authorities, Tribes and local governments, we’ll keep these measures relevant and effective locally – particularly as climate change effects accelerate or amplify other ecological effects across landscapes.

Sagebrush panorama with mountains, pronghorn antelope and sage-grouse
US Geological Survey/Tatiana Gettelman

LEARN MORE: Next steps for sage-grouse | More than the numbers | Documents & Background