Sagebrush landscapes have changed dramatically over the last two centuries. The vast expanses of sagebrush crossed by early European settlers and used by sage-grouse have been lost, fragmented, or altered due to invasive plants, changes in fire regimes, and impact of land uses (Knick et al. 2003, Knick and Connelly 2011a). As a consequence, sage-grouse and many other wildlife species that depend on sagebrush have undergone long-term range-wide population declines. Sage-grouse populations now occupy approximately one-half of their pre-European settlement distribution (Schroeder et al. 2004). Anthropogenic habitat impacts and lack of regulatory mechanisms to protect against further losses provided the basis for warranting listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 2010 (75 FR 13910). The need to address higher priority species and limited funding precluded immediate listing action. However, a litigation settlement requires that a listing decision be made by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) by September, 2015.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages approximately 50% of the sagebrush habitats used by sage-grouse (Knick 2011). Therefore, management actions by BLM in concert with other state and federal agencies, and private land owners play a critical role in the future trends of sage-grouse populations. To ensure BLM management actions are effective and based on the best available science, the National Policy Team created a National Technical Team (NTT) in August of 2011. The BLM's objective for chartering this planning strategy effort was to develop new or revised regulatory mechanisms, through Resource Management Plans (RMPs), to conserve and restore the greater sage-grouse and its habitat on BLM-administered lands on a range-wide basis over the long term. The National Greater Sage-Grouse Planning Strategy Charter charged the NTT to serve as a scientific and technical forum to:
- Understand current scientific knowledge related to the greater sage-grouse.
- Provide specialized sources of expertise not otherwise available.
- Provide innovative scientific perspectives concerning management approaches for the greater sage-grouse.
- Provide assurance that relevant science is considered, reasonably interpreted, and accurately presented; and that uncertainties and risks are acknowledged and documented.
- Provide science and technical assistance to the Regional Management Team (RMT) and Regional Interdisciplinary Team (RIDT), on request.
- Articulate conservation objectives for the greater sage-grouse in measurable terms to guide overall planning. Introduction National Technical Team National Greater Sage-Grouse Conservation Measures/Planning Strategy December 21, 2011 5 of 74
- Identify science-based management considerations for the greater sage-grouse (e.g., conservation measures) that are necessary to promote sustainable sage-grouse populations, and which focus on the threats (75 FR 13910) in each of the management zones.
The National Technical Team (NTT) met from August 28 through September 2, 2011, in Denver, Colorado, and a subset of the team met December 5-8 in Phoenix, Arizona, to further articulate the scientific basis for the conservation measures. Members of the team included resource specialists and scientists from the BLM, State Fish and Wildlife Agencies, USFWS, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).
This document provides the latest science and best biological judgment to assist in making management decisions. Fortunately, recent emphasis on sage-grouse conservation has resulted in a substantial number of publications dealing with a variety of aspects of sage-grouse ecology and management, summarized in the 2010 listing petition (75 FR 13910), as well as Knick and Connelly (2011b). Habitat requirements and other life history aspects of sage-grouse, excerpted from the USFWS listing decision (75 FR 13910), are summarized in Appendix A to provide context for the proposed conservation measures. We have attempted to describe the scientific basis for the conservation measures proposed within each program area. Perspectives on the nature and interpretation of the available science are in Appendix B.
The conservation measures described in this report are not an end point but, rather, a starting point to be used in the BLM's planning processes. Due to time constraints, they are focused primarily on priority sage-grouse habitat areas. General habitat conservation areas were not thoroughly discussed or vetted through the NTT, and the concept of connectivity between priority sage-grouse habitat areas will need more development through the BLM planning process.