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WYO Puts on B-L-M on Notice About Sage Grouse

August 4, 2008

Laramie, WY – Wyoming wants the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to do more to "feather the nest" for the state's sage grouse. Governor Freudenthal has unveiled a set of recommendations to try to stop the documented decline of the species amid oil and gas production, including setting up four-mile buffer zones around the most popular sage grouse breeding areas.

Wildlife biologist Dr. Clait Braun says the governor has the right idea, but there are loopholes in the guidelines that would still allow pockets of development in core sage grouse zones. The problem, he explains, is that this approach leads to isolation of bird populations.

"They're punching great big holes in this fabric, and you're losing the continuity of the population. That's critical to maintaining healthy sage grouse populations."

The sage grouse is being reviewed for possible federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. In Braun's view, the goal of the state and BLM should be mutual - to boost sage grouse numbers to the point at which ESA listing is no longer a consideration. To do that, he says, drilling must be put on hold in core sage grouse habitat, and the land on which the birds travel must be clear of development.

"Corridors and reserves have really got to be looked at. Wyoming is the stronghold of sage grouse. If it goes under, look out."

Braun also notes that the BLM is under no obligation to follow the state's recommendations. Supporters of drilling in sage grouse areas say the birds naturally move to other suitable habitat.

Deborah Smith/Craig Eicher, Public News Service - WY