Congress Votes for Sage Grouse Conservation, Sends Defense Bill to President's Desk

Contentious measure that would have blocked collaborative sagebrush management plans yanked from spending bill following pressure from sportsmen, others

WASHINGTON – An unprecedented, bipartisan strategy to sustain sage grouse habitat relied upon by hundreds of species of Western wildlife will continue following a decision by Congress to remove a measure from a massive defense spending bill that would have halted crucial conservation efforts.

The Senate voted today to send the National Defense Authorization Act to the president’s desk. The House voted in favor of the wide-ranging legislative package last Friday, Dec. 2.

Declines in historic sage grouse populations and habitat led to the bird’s consideration for listing under the Endangered Species Act. In late 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that an ESA listing for the grouse was “not warranted” at that time. The ruling was predicated in part on the continued implementation of federal management plans that are locally crafted and tailored to individual states to advance the species’ recovery and improve important areas of sage grouse habitat.

Language inserted in the NDAA, however, would have limited the scope of sage grouse conservation activities and prohibited the Interior Department from altering the status of the bird until Sept. 30, 2026. The provision in the 2016 legislative package follows inclusion of a similar measure in last year’s House version of the same bill, a measure that also was ultimately removed by the conference committee after emerging as a major sticking point.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe acknowledged the efforts by members of Congress to remove the damaging language and advance NDAA’s passage into law, thereby also advancing sage grouse conservation.

“The bipartisan, multi-state effort to conserve and protect the greater sage-grouse and its habitat has averted the need for Endangered Species Act protection and brought together partners and landowners across the West to improve the health of the landscape for people and hundreds of species of native wildlife that call it home,” said Ashe. “I want to thank Congress for recognizing that this important conservation effort should continue. We're committed to working with Congress and key partners like Backcountry Hunters & Anglers in the years ahead to make sure we help keep working families on the land while making a place for sage-grouse and other wildlife in sagebrush country.”

BHA, which has been actively engaged in preventing the sage-grouse’s listing under the ESA while promoting the bird’s recovery, commended the decision to jettison the provision and urged adherence to the conservation plans.

“Collaborative efforts by the federal government, Western states, landowners, ranchers, sportsmen and a range of other stakeholders have brought us where we are today – at a point where sage grouse populations could someday recover and where habitat relied upon by hundreds of valuable species of wildlife also will benefit – but only if we allow our management plans to work,” said BHA Conservation Director John Gale. “American sportsmen offer thanks to Senator McCain and the foresighted members of Congress who appreciate the economic value of our sagebrush ecosystems, as well as the hard work by so many in upholding this critical component of our Western traditions.”

The 4.2 million acres of sagebrush steppe occupied by the grouse provide habitat for more than 350 species of fish and wildlife, including big-game species such as mule deer, pronghorn and elk. Healthy and functioning sage-grouse habitat fuels an outdoor-reliant economy that provides a stable source of income for communities across the West.

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