1000 Friends Works to Improve Planning for Sage Grouse Protection

In April, the State released a new plan for the management of sage grouse called the Oregon Sage Grouse Conservation Plan.  The plan comes at a critical time: sage grouse were recently determined by the US Fish & Wildlife Service to be warranted for inclusion on the Endangered Species List. However, they were not yet added for administrative reasons.  In other words, even though their population is in decline to the point that they are becoming endangered, they are not going to be listed immediately because listing requires designating critical habitat, determining best management practices, and myriad other projects – all of which are very resource-intensive.

Why is 1000 Friends getting involved with wildlife issues?

Although wildlife management is not typically within 1000 Friends' mission, we felt we needed to be involved with this sage grouse plan for two reasons: first, wildlife management on private lands is accomplished through Goal 5 of the land use system – something that 1000 Friends understands as well as anyone else out there; second, we believed that without our perspective, this plan had the potential to adversely impact farmers and ranchers – two groups that we work hard to support throughout the state.

Our primary message to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) was that the proposed plan contained a paradox regarding good management for sage grouse on private land. Under the proposal, farmers and ranchers who effectively manage for healthy sage grouse populations risked the greatest regulation when the species is eventually added to the endangered species list.  Meanwhile, landowners who have good potential habitat, but no sage grouse populations, would not see regulation under the original proposal.  We argued that this situation needed to be reversed.  Specifically, we argued that private landowners with scientifically-verifiable, management success should be recognized and studied as the model for simultaneous success in maintaining productive land and healthy sage grouse populations.  We recommended that rewards should be given to those who can demonstrate management techniques that improve sage grouse population health.

The creation of a balanced plan

To ensure that our perspective was taken into consideration, we provided written and oral comments on the plan, and met with ODFW staff several times while the plan was being developed.  In the end, our efforts paid off.  Many of our ideas were incorporated into the final plan, which now states that it exists to “provide a foundation for conservation agencies and individuals to work cooperatively in sage-grouse and sagebrush management, and identify or define landscape mosaics that support stable populations of sage-grouse.”

As part of the newly adopted conservation plan, local implementation teams now have the opportunity to establish cooperative management plans with local ranchers who, through years of firsthand experience, often know best how to manage sage grouse. It will be up to these teams to determine how best to develop and implement these plans. As the endangered species listing decision grows closer, sage grouse will undoubtedly be a hot topic in the news, so be on the lookout for this.

With our cooperative management plans in place, it is our hope that Oregon will stand out nationally as a state that knows how to manage its endangered and threatened species. As ever, we will do our best to keep you informed as this scenario unfolds.

To learn more about the sage grouse and efforts to protect its dwindling habitat and populations, visit this page from ODFW.

To learn more about the work that 1000 Friends is doing in Central Oregon, please visit our website here.