The Greater Sage Grouse won’t make the Endangered Species List, but U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewel announced a broad new conservation plan that aims to preserve the habitat needed to keep the grouse from further decline. The birds live across what’s called the Sagebrush Sea that covers 11 western states including parts of the Dakotas. The new conservation plan has some impact on South Dakota.
Secretary Jewel champions the new effort that seeks to save what she calls an amazing scrappy bird. Jewel considers the sage grouse a canary in a coal mine when it comes to the health of western ecosystems. She says this effort is about keeping entire landscapes intact.
“This is the largest most complex land conservation effort ever in history of the United States of America perhaps the world,” says Jewell. “Across the west partners came together across geographic and political boundaries and they said what are the threats to the sage brush sea and the sage grouse, what is the important habitat, how can we address those threats, protect this habitat but keep our economies strong and thriving.”
Most of the conservation efforts are focused on areas west of South Dakota in Wyoming, Colorado, and Montana. The plan also calls for protecting the small populations of sage grouse that live in the Dakotas. Some conservationists are critical saying to save the bird needs an Endangered Species Listing. In 2014 there were 67 male birds counted in South Dakota. Some worry this is a very fragile population.
The plan for South Dakota aims to protect 2.5-million acres of the sage grouse range mostly in the northwest part of the state. A small part of those lands are under a easement with the Nature Conservancy one of many groups that has come together on this effort. Corissa Krueger with the Nature Conservancy sees this plan as positive.
“Conservation of that habitat is critical for the species success, but also for 350 other species that depend on sage brush country for home,” says Krueger. “One of the things we’ve seen over the last several years is an unprecedented level of collaboration between different groups, between the federal government, state governments, local ranchers, other non-profits, and conservation groups. And, it’s that collaborative work that has led us up to this date and we love that positive momentum.”
Officials say without this plan the sage grouse could end up on the endangered list in coming years.