Greater Sage-grouse Comprehensive Conservation Strategy
By: San J. Stiver, Anthony D. Apa, Joe Bohne, S. Dwight Bunnell, Patricia Deibert, S.C. Gardner, M.A. Hilliard, C.W. McCarthy, and M.A. Schroeder
Sage-grouse are currently found in California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming in the United States and Alberta and Saskatchewan in Canada. The current range has been estimated to be a reduction of 44% from the historically occupied range. In addition, populations in most or the range have been demonstrated to have declined from 1965- 2003, the period where data was collected most intensively. Between May 1999 and December 2003, eight petitions were filed with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to have sage-grouse protected under provisions of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In 2001 the USFWS determined that greater sage-grouse in the Columbia Basin of Washington state warranted protection under provisions of the ESA. In 2005 the USFWS determined that the greater sage-grouse did not warrant protection in the remainder of the range, but encouraged continued and enhanced conservation efforts. Greater sage-grouse in Canada are listed as Endangered under provisions of the Species at Risk Act (SARA).
In 1954 the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) formed a technical committee to monitor the distribution and abundance of sage-grouse. WAFWA formalized a program of interstate coordination and cooperation in 1995 to address the issues of sage-grouse population losses and degradation of sagebrush ecosystems in order to: 1) Maintain the present distribution of sage grouse and 2) Maintain the present abundance of sage-grouse. In 1999 WAFWA amended the objectives to: 1) Maintain and increase where possible the present distribution of sage grouse and 2) Maintain and increase where possible the present abundance of sage grouse. The Bureau of Land Management, USFWS, and U.S. Forest Service formally joined with WAFWA in range-wide conservation efforts in 2000.
WAFWA entered into a contract with the USFWS in 2002 to produce a complete conservation assessment for greater sage-grouse and its habitat. WAFWA choose to produce the assessment in two phases: Phase I is a 2004 assessment of greater sagegrouse populations and sagebrush habitats upon which they depend (‘Assessment’, senior author J. C. Connelly) and Phase II (‘Strategy’, this document) is a conservation strategy for greater sage-grouse and sagebrush habitats. The Assessment demonstrated that approximately 99% of the current population of greater sage-grouse is found in the United States, while the remaining 1% is located in Canada. Federal lands make up about 72% of the total range of the species making federal land management agencies primarily responsible for habitat management. However, privately owned lands provide critical seasonal habitats for many populations and their importance to conservation may greatly exceed their ownership percentage. Throughout their range, sage-grouse populations are located on lands that overlap significant natural resources such as oil and gas resources, water resources, wind power sites, mineral deposits, agricultural, and recreational areas. Sage-grouse are also found in habitats that are at significant risk of change due to exotic weeds, fire, and conifer encroachment.
In 2000 the Gunnison sage-grouse (Centrocercus minimus) was officially recognized as a separate species, based on morphological, genetic, and behavioral differences from the greater sage-grouse (C. urophasianus). This Strategy deals with greater-sage grouse, but portions of the Strategy (Chapter 6) make reference to, and are applicable to, Gunnison sage-grouse. The strategy for Gunnison sage-grouse conservation is outlined in the Gunnison Sage-grouse Range-wide Conservation Plan which is available for download at the Colorado Division of Wildlife website (http://wildlife.state.co.us.).
Strategy Guiding Principles
The Strategy incorporates seven guiding principles: 1) Inclusion and mutual respect, 2) Local, state, agency and group initiative and leadership, 3) Commitment to monitoring and adaptive management, 4) Commitment to continued cooperation and coordination, 5) Commitment to functional and productive landscapes, 6) Inclusion of the best science and maintaining scientific integrity, and 7) Commitment to the Range-wide Issues Forum suggestion that the Strategy should strive to: a) protect what we have, b) retain what we are losing, and c) restore what has been lost.
Seven sage-grouse management zones are established based on populations within floristic provinces (detailed description in Assessment). The success of conservation actions will be judged on the basis of long-term population trends in each of the seven Management Zones. The overall goal of the range-wide Strategy is to maintain and enhance populations and distribution of sage-grouse by protecting and improving sagebrush habitats and ecosystems that sustain these populations. The overall objective of the range-wide Strategy is to produce and maintain neutral or positive trends in populations and to maintain or increase the distribution of sage-grouse in each Management Zone. Therefore, the future distribution, trend, and abundance of sagegrouse populations will be the ultimate indicators of the Strategy’s success.
The Strategy is designed to augment and facilitate other conservation plans and strategies. The Strategy references local, state, provincial, and agency conservation strategies and adds regional and range-wide strategies. Local, state and provincial, federal agency and other sage-grouse and sagebrush conservation plans are not diminished or changed by this Strategy.
The Strategy is outlined in 7 sub-strategies: 1) Conservation actions, 2) Monitoring the effectiveness of conservation actions, 3) Monitoring the implementation of conservation actions, 4) Research and technology, 5) Funding, 6) Communications, and 7) Adaptive management.
WAFWA initiated a public process in October 2005 to develop range-wide conservation strategies to benefit greater sage-grouse. Informed and committed individuals representing a wide breadth of experience and involvement with sage-grouse across western North America were invited to participate in a series of meetings known as the Sage-grouse Forum (Forum). The goal of the Forum was to facilitate collaborative development of approaches that address issues, needs, opportunities, and partnerships related to conservation of greater sage-grouse and sagebrush habitats at the range-wide scale. Forum participants identified three essential resources needed to take the Strategy forward: 1) Funding; 2) Leadership committed to organizing, supporting and guiding a long-term effort; and 3) Appropriate organizational structure to sustain conservation actions over time.
The Strategy also involves hundreds of citizens and resource professionals with disparate backgrounds who participate in Local Working Groups scattered throughout sage-grouse range. Due to many individual circumstances, and agency personnel changes, the makeup of working groups will change over time. Therefore, consistent and reliable monitoring data must provide a common language for sage-grouse conservation temporally and spatially.
The Strategy repeatedly stresses the need for appropriate types of monitoring to provide the information required to make educated decisions and to adaptively manage resources. Monitoring provides the ‘currency’ necessary to evaluate management decisions and to assess progress or problems. Adequate monitoring should be considered an integral and inseparable component of all management actions, and therefore, not optional. Lack of proper monitoring will undoubtedly hinder this large-scale conservation effort.
Research and Technology:
Research and technology are fundamental components of an effective conservation strategy. Research is considered here as a broad categorization of many topics including, inventory, monitoring, and evaluation of specific questions related to the understanding or management of greater sage-grouse. Even though some monitoring and evaluation activities can be considered research, they are also important components of management and therefore are essential to the success of the Strategy.
Funding is needed to implement conservation actions and is critical to success of the Strategy at the local, regional and range-wide level. The Funding Sub-strategy addresses two elements: funding and appropriate administrative structure. The basic premise of the Strategy is that additional conservation capacity must be developed at all levels (local, state and agency, and range-wide) for both the short-term (first 3-5 years) and for the long term. The Funding Sub-strategy proposes implementation of the North American Sagebrush Ecosystem Conservation Act (NASECA), modeled on the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, to provide funding and structure for sage-grouse conservation. WAFWA and its partners, through a broadly-based Implementation Team, will continue to provide leadership and guidance to implement the Strategy.
WAFWA’s sage-grouse conservation program is largely dependent upon groups staffed by volunteers who need continuing support through recognition of their efforts, reimbursement of out-of-pocket expenses, and continuing outreach by the states, provinces, and agencies. There is a continuing and growing need for communication of unbiased, up to date technical information to guide on-the-ground projects. This need is addressed by the Strategy through development of a consortium of conservation experts.
As sage-grouse conservation efforts move forward, there is a need for continuing communication to establish and maintain broad-based support for the Strategy. Public education, outreach, and in reach (communication within agencies and groups to increase understanding) about sage-grouse conservation can be more effective through partnerships between states, federal agencies, non-government organizations, and citizens. The Strategy has a primary message to the public that, "Greater sage-grouse and sagebrush habitats are of critical importance. The Greater Sage-grouse Comprehensive Conservation Strategy has been prepared as a roadmap for the long-term conservation of sage-grouse and their habitats and the Strategy needs your support to be successful ."
There are three essential resources needed to ensure successful implementation of the Strategy: 1) Significant and sustained funding; 2) Leadership committed to organizing, supporting, and guiding a long-term effort; and 3) Appropriate organizational structure to sustain range-wide conservation through time. A basic premise of the Strategy is that additional conservation capacity must be developed at all levels (local, state and agency, and range-wide) for both the short-term (first 3-5 years) and for the long term. The Strategy proposes the development and implementation of the North American Sagebrush Ecosystem Conservation Act (NASECA) to provide the funding and organizational structure needed to sustain a long-term range-wide conservation effort. WAFWA and its partners must remain strongly committed to providing the leadership and guidance needed to implement the Strategy over time.
Download the complete document