Sage-Grouse: Managing an iconic species


An opportunity for Wyoming to maintain the state’s management plan and leadership role on sage grouse


A male sage-grouse displays its full plumage. Habitat loss due to human activity threatens this famous western bird.

Photo: Mark Gocke


Wyoming is a stronghold for the Greater sage-grouse. The state is home to more birds than anywhere else in the country, with an estimated 37 percent [37%] of the bird’s total population based here in Wyoming. 

Wyoming is a leader in managing the western iconic Greater sage-grouse. In the past ten years, Wyoming governors under both parties have effectively managed this bird in a proactive, collaborative manner focused on reducing the risk for an Endangered Species listing. The all-hands, all-lands management approach works to minimize negative impacts on communities, businesses, and the economy of the cowboy state. 

Wyoming’s leadership is most notable in becoming the first state to formalize a Greater sage-grouse management plan and executive order with a core area strategy. In 2008, Governor Dave Freudenthal established the greater sage-grouse executive order (SGEO), which provided a process for managing the bird across Wyoming. Revised SGEOs have been signed by Governor Matt Mead, with the most recent being the State of Wyoming’s SGEO 2015-4. The SGEO is the primary regulatory mechanism to conserve the Greater sage-grouse. While only twenty-four percent [24%] of the state's land has been allocated to core areas, nearly eighty-four percent [84%] of the bird’s population is located in those areas. 

Efforts to conserve Greater sage-grouse populations in Wyoming are guided by the Wyoming Sage-Grouse Implementation Team (SGIT), a diverse group of state, federal and local agencies and representatives from agriculture, the energy and mineral industries, conservation organizations, and sportsmen. The SGIT is responsible for reviewing and recommending actions that will enhance sage-grouse and their habitats in the state, while maintaining a robust economy.

Wyoming’s involvement in the federal and state process is also critical to the conservation of the species. The federal government through the Bureau of Land Management and the United States Forest Service are revising their management plans. This process is controversial and concerning for many non-governmental organizations and states who have worked for years together with the BLM and Forest Service on public land management prescriptions that safeguard the sage-grouse. The recent revision of these plans creates a lack of assurance in that the agreed upon prescriptions could be changed. Governor Matt Mead has lead Wyoming’s involvement as a Co-Chair of the Sage-Grouse Task Force, and Wyoming must stay involved in this process and be at the table.

If not managed well, the Greater sage-grouse could be listed on the Endangered Species list impacting the economy and business of Wyoming. Grazing practices on all-lands, the culture of hunting the bird that is generations deep, and the energy industry and mineral extraction industry could all be negatively affected. 

Through its actions, the state of Wyoming has successfully conserved sage grouse habitat while providing opportunity for appropriate development and use of the lands, which provides jobs and revenue for Wyoming. Maintaining the SGIT, the SGEO, and Wyoming’s role in the Sage-Grouse Task Force is imperative for continuing to be a leader in the west for conserving the Greater sage-grouse.

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