BHA Report Finds Sage Grouse, Energy Development Can Coexist

New analysis shows minimal overlap of sage grouse habitat with areas suited to energy development, confirms impact of sage grouse conservation plans on energy industry is negligible

WASHINGTON – Only a fraction of greater sage grouse habitat is capable of producing energy of any kind, now or in the future, with 79 percent of areas with medium to high potential for energy development falling outside of grouse habitat, according to a report released today by Backcountry Hunters & Anglers.

Prepared by Western EcoSystems Technology Inc., the report looks at sage grouse priority habitat management areas, or PHMA, that are identified by the Bureau of Land Management in sage grouse management plans and evaluates the overlap between these areas and existing leases and rights-of-way for energy development. The report also analyzes development potential for oil and gas, solar, and wind energy on public lands located within PHMA.

The BHA report comes as the Interior Department launches a review of collaborative sage grouse conservation plans currently in place to gauge the plans’ impact – and potential limitation of – energy development on habitat relied upon by the bird.

BHA Conservation Director John Gale called the report’s results “highly consequential” given the Interior Department’s decision to review the grouse management plans and stressed the need to continue the historic, multi-stakeholder effort to conserve sage grouse habitat, an effort which has averted the bird’s listing under the Endangered Species Act.

“Our sagebrush steppe is a resource of incalculable value – an ecosystem that, with its robust fish and wildlife populations, diverse recreational offerings and public lands hunting and fishing opportunities, anchors the economies of states and communities across the West,” said Gale. “Sportsmen have an enormous stake in sustaining the lands and waters relied upon not just by the sage grouse but by hundreds of species of fish and wildlife.

“Energy development is an appropriate and necessary use of our public lands, particularly in the West, yet it must be pursued responsibly and in the right places,” Gale continued. “Our report shows that the vast majority of greater sage grouse habitat is ill-suited to energy development of any kind, now or in the future – and that more than three-quarters of areas potentially suited to energy production located outside areas important to sage grouse.”

The BHA analysis includes the following:

  • An overlap of only 4 percent exists between PHMA and existing coal and oil and gas leases on federal lands.
  • The majority of federal lands within the PHMA have zero to low assumed potential for oil and gas, solar and wind energy development based on existing data sources. For oil and gas, approximately 79 percent of federal lands and minerals within the PHMA have zero to low assumed development potential.
  • The majority of federal lands and minerals identified as assumed medium or high development potential for oil and gas are located outside of the PHMA. For oil and gas, approximately 71 percent of all federal lands and minerals within the study area with assumed medium to high development potential are located outside of the PHMA.   

BHA has consistently advocated public lands management approaches that will maintain healthy, huntable populations of sage grouse.

“We appreciate the administration’s interest in sustaining the future of the Western sage steppe and our outdoors way of life,” stated Gale. “Collaborative efforts by the federal government, Western states, landowners, ranchers, sportsmen and a range of other stakeholders have allowed us to reach a point where sage grouse populations can thrive. The review of these strategies launched by Secretary Zinke should in no way slow or alter their continued implementation. We must continue to support this approach – and continue working to make sage grouse habitat as healthy and resilient as possible – while proceeding to cultivate public lands energy resources. Our report shows that both of these objectives can be achieved simultaneously.”

The 165 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. 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, citing that implementation of the conservation plans is foundational to that decision.

Read the BHA report.


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