NACD pleased with Interior’s sage grouse decision

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

NACD PLEASED WITH INTERIOR’S SAGE GROUSE DECISION

DENVER, Sept. 22, 2015 — U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced today the department’s official decision not to list sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for at least the next five years. Secretary Jewell made the announcement at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge near Denver, Colorado. Jewell was joined by Neil Kornze, Director of the BLM, U.S. Department of Agriculture Under Secretary for Natural Resources and the Environment Robert Bonnie, Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe, U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell, Natural Resource Conservation Service Chief Jason Weller, U.S. Geological Survey Acting Director Suzette Kimball, Wyoming Governor Matt Mead, Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, Montana Governor Steve Bullock, other government officials, and conservation and wildlife leaders from across the country.

In addition to the listing decision, Secretary Jewell also signed the final sage grouse land-use plan put forth by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Forest Service affecting federal lands in 11 Western states.

The decision comes just days before the September 30th deadline set forth by a 2011 settlement between the Interior Department and wildlife interest groups calling for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to make a determination on sage grouse.

The announcement that an endangered listing is “not warranted” has come as a result of the largest land conservation effort in U.S. history and signals a major success for voluntary, incentive-based conservation efforts and could catalyze similar approaches to conservation and wildlife management in the future. “We are pleased with FWS and the Interior’s listing decision and their commitment to sound conservation practices based on locally-led initiatives, voluntary participation and funding assistance for local landowners and operators,” said NACD President Lee McDaniel.

The successful rebound of sage grouse population and habitat can largely be attributed to the Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI) that was introduced in 2010. The initiative is a collaborative effort of USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), Conservation Districts, state and federal agencies, and conservation, agriculture and wildlife organizations. It is a voluntary incentive-based approach that engages partners on public and private lands.

“The Sage Grouse Initiative has been a hallmark example of how fruitful coordinated conservation efforts can be when landowners and operators are brought into the conservation planning process early on and are encouraged to participate through an incentive-based approach as opposed to one of imposing harsh regulatory limitations” McDaniel said. In the past five years, conservation easements have increased 18-fold in priority landscapes that are critical habit areas for sage grouse and roughly 4.4 million acres of habitat have been conserved.

“This latest success in helping Greater Sage Grouse populations rebound is proof positive that locally-led voluntary, incentive-based conservation works,” McDaniel said. “Conservation districts have been at the forefront of these efforts and we will continue to be leaders in implementing practical conservation on the ground.”

Despite today’s positive tidings about the state of sage grouse populations in the West, the announcement of the final land-use plans is still highly contentious and is expected to garner legal action by environmental interest groups as well as several of the affected states. NACD continues to support voluntary, incentive-based conservation efforts and strongly encourages that government agencies consider the potential impact these practices can, and already have had, before handing down new, more stringent regulations.

NACD will follow any developments with the BLM and Forest Service land-use plan and will continue to work in cooperation with NRCS, state agencies, local districts and landowners on the Sage Grouse Initiative to achieve its goal to conserve 8 million acres of sage grouse habitat by 2018.

A brief video about this historic decision presented by Secretary Jewell is available on the U.S. Department of Interior’s website or by clicking here.

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The National Association of Conservation Districts is the non-profit organization that represents the nation’s 3,000 conservation districts, their state associations and the 17,000 men and women who serve on their governing boards. For more than 70 years, local conservation districts have worked with cooperating landowners and managers of private working lands to help them plan and apply effective conservation practices. For more information about NACD, visit: www.nacdnet.org.

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