The Road Ahead for the Not-Listed Sage-Grouse
This morning’s announcement that the greater sage-grouse will not be listed under the federal Endangered Species Act represents a unique opportunity for 11 western states in the sage-grouse range. The ball is effectively in the states’ court to demonstrate that state and local management of imperiled species can achieve the same or better outcomes as federal control. Fortunately, partners in Oregon are very well positioned to help recover sagebrush ecosystems and the many species and human communities that depend on them.
The state of Oregon’s “all lands, all threats” approach, described in our September 18th post, holds particular promise in that it combines:
- Voluntary commitments from ranchers to restore sagebrush;
- Investment from the state to manage fire and invasive species threats;
- Restrictions on development actions that could impact sage-grouse; and
- A mitigation framework that provides flexibility to communities but also commits to real conservation.
These approaches address threats to the species on federal, state, and private lands. Oregon’s commitment to meeting specific goals in recovering sage-grouse and healthy sagebrush ecosystems, combined with the unprecedented participation of private landowners in voluntary conservation agreements undoubtedly played a significant role in the decision not to list the bird.
Implementation of Oregon’s Action Plan will present its own set of challenges, and the state may have a relatively short window to demonstrate success. Third-party litigation over the decision is likely, and today’s decision does not preclude the US Fish and Wildlife Service who will be evaluating the progress and status of sage-grouse in five years.
Post-listing decision, Oregon has three key challenges moving forward:
- Development of a governance structure for implementation of the plan that allows key local, state, and federal actors to coordinate their actions and target funds and efforts to where they can be most effective.
- Operationalizing the new mitigation approach outlined in the action plan, which combines increased flexibility with a commitment to delivering a net benefit to the species and its habitat.
- Developing a simple but rigorous approach to tracking and reporting the outcomes of conservation investments, so that the state can communicate progress in terms of outcomes, not just dollars spent and acres treated.
With today’s decision, the US Fish and Wildlife Service has expressed confidence in a new way of doing species conservation. They have sent a clear message that the specific tools used to achieve conservation goals are less important than demonstrating outcomes. If the states make rapid progress on implementation and are prepared to track and communicate the results, the sage-grouse may show a path forward to a more flexible – and more effective – way of meeting species conservation goals.