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Chance for Oregonians to Weigh In on Altering Sage-Grouse Plan

The sage grouse has lost half its habitat and 95 percent of its historic population. (NRCS Oregon/Flickr)
The sage grouse has lost half its habitat and 95 percent of its historic population. (NRCS Oregon/Flickr)
November 7, 2017

BURNS, Ore. – Folks in Burns will have a chance this evening to weigh in on potential changes to the Bureau of Land Management's sage-grouse conservation plan. The BLM is hosting scoping meetings throughout the West on possibly rolling back conservation plans, which could open the land up to more drilling and mining.

Considered an indicator species, sage grouse and about 350 other species in the so-called "sagebrush sea" are conserved through the sage-grouse plan, including elk, pronghorn and golden eagles.

Critics say states need more control of the plan, but Ken Rait, project director at The Pew Charitable Trusts, says a variety of stakeholders worked together on it.

"Those 2015 plans were the result of a multi-year collaborative process between governors, land users, sportspersons and conservationists and really did an outstanding job in balancing conservation and development," he explains.

Rait notes the plan took years to develop before being agreed upon by the Obama administration. The sage grouse already has lost half its habitat and 95 percent of its historic population.

Matt Holloran is a leading scientist in the field of sage-grouse research. Last month, he and 16 other scientists submitted a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke expressing concern about the agency's decision to review the plan. He says the grouse's habitat also is critical for ranchers to graze their animals.

"Anything that relies on land would benefit from healthy systems," he says. "And I think that our sagebrush systems are in a predominantly degraded state across the western U.S."

The sage-grouse habitat is part of an iconic western landscape that stretches across 50 million acres in eleven Western states.

Support for this reporting was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR