The Department of the Interior is engaged in what it describes as “the largest and most complex landscape-scale land management planning effort in US history—and the most ambitious conservation experiment under the ESA [Endangered Species Act]." The object of this extraordinary attention is the greater sage grouse, a large ground-dwelling bird that inhabits 165 million acres in 11 western states.
The Interior Department has a September 30, 2015 deadline to decide whether to propose listing the greater sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act.
However, the Department has strongly suggested—and it has also been reported—that listing could be precluded by 15 amended federal plans governing the use of 61.5 million acres of federal land located in sage grouse habitat. This aspect of the sage grouse story, in which 98 land use plans have been combined into 15 “mega” sage grouse-specific plans, is very significant but has generally received less attention than a potential listing under the Endangered Species Act.
Communities, landowners, ranchers, states and businesses are very worried that they will be restricted by penalties and severe controls on land and resource use. Two separate studies commissioned by the Western Energy Alliance estimate the effects of sage grouse regulations, due to a potential listing under the Endangered Species Act and the 15 amended federal plans, on annual economic losses (revenues, taxes, earnings and economic output) and annual jobs losses:
- Endangered Species Act listing (oil and gas industry): $5.5 billion and 18,000 jobs
- 15 amended federal plans (all sectors of the economy): $7.7 billion and 31,000 jobs
With the stakes so high, a closer look at the sage grouse, its population status and conservation measures taken to help the species is warranted.