The Utah Sage Grouse Summit, recently renamed the Utah All Lands-All Hands Summit, took place this week in downtown Salt Lake City. The Utah Chapter of Backcountry Hunter & Anglers was in attendance and participated in the stakeholder scoping process.
Last held in 2014, the summit was organized to revisit and revise the state’s greater sage grouse conservation plan to better align with the Department of Interior’s 2017 mandate directing the BLM and USFS “to improve sage grouse conservation by increasing communication and collaboration between states and federal government” (SO 3353). The theme throughout the summit this year was the idea that “it’s not just the federal land managers or just the states or just the private property owners” that are going to solve the sage grouse question; rather, improving sage grouse populations requires an all-hands-on-deck approach among these three partners. UT BHA attended to make sure hunters had a seat at the table.
Highlights from the summit included a comprehensive overview of conservation efforts by San Stiver, Sagebrush Initiative Coordinator for the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, whose thesis – that “sagebrush isn’t just for sage grouse anymore” – resonated throughout the room. Because the sage grouse is an obligate species, meaning its ability to breed depends on a particular habitat, Striver argues the approach to sage grouse conservation is shifting to a broader focus on the sagebrush steppe. Striver points out that between 2005-2015 “$750 million was spent on sage grouse conservation,” whereas in 2015-2020 an additional “$750 million will be spent on sagebrush initiatives.” In sum, that translates into a $1.5 billion investment over a 15-year period for improving the sage steppe. This shift has occurred largely in response to a loss of habitat due to wildfires and oil and gas development. A more holistic investment strategy focused on improving the sagebrush ecosystem allows groups to better leverage habitat funding for a variety of species.
While wildfire management and energy development factor heavily in threats cited for sage steppe degradation, UT BHA made sure to emphasize during the summit that other motorized use on the landscape can significantly impact sage grouse leks and breeding areas. UT BHA also emphasized the importance of the human dimensions of sage grouse management issues. We believe greater efforts should be made at the working group and agency levels to offer diverse and targeted communication strategies to enhance recruitment, retention and reactivation among youths in both rural and urban settings. For more information from the summit or to access videos visit https://utahalllandsallhands.org/.
Joshua Lenart is a lifelong outdoorsman and the Chair of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers’ Utah Chapter. Joshua teaches technical communication in the Dept. of Civil & Environmental Engineering at the University of Utah. His research focuses on land management policy as it relates to landscape-scale infrastructure and its impacts on wildlife and habitat. Joshua also serves on the Utah DWR Regional Advisory Council (Central Region). He can be reached by email at [email protected].