Zinke undercuts BLM sage grouse conservation plan

Secretary of the Interior Zinke undercuts BLM sage grouse conservation plan.

The Department of the Interior recently issued a set of proposed changes for sage grouse conservation that will harm the species rather than help it. ONDA has been a leader in sage-grouse protection efforts by investing decades of effort in habitat monitoring, stakeholder collaboration and policy development. We are deeply disappointed and concerned with the Trump Administration’s ill-advised watering down of sage-grouse conservation. Oregonians who value a healthy sagebrush-steppe ecosystem must urge Governor Brown and Senators Wyden and Merkley to push back against this move that will endanger sage-grouse populations and Oregon’s high desert.


Ursula K. Le Guin on ONDA

Ursula K. Le Guin on ONDA

“Nothing in conservation work is ever uncomplicated! But I’m proud of ONDA for working on that conversation, being neighborly, trying to include the human landscape in the natural one as truly part of what is to be honored, protected, and saved.”

Ursula K. Le Guin, from the short essay Concerning a Wilderness


Cregg Large, member since 2009

Cregg Large, member since 2009

“I came to Oregon 12 years ago from Texas. Texas, for all its size, has very little public land. Coming to Oregon has made me realize the special gift we as Americans have in our public lands. Volunteering with an organization like ONDA is my way of reciprocating for this gift. Through restoration efforts, I feel we are helping leave a better place than we found it. Through advocating for protection for public lands, we safeguard migration routes for animals and keep the land where it belongs: with the public.”


The Last Darkness

The Last Darkness

As ONDA members and supporters know, Greater sage-grouse are majestic birds that thrive in the sagebrush and native bunchgrass habitats at the heart of the high desert.

Sage-grouse population declines were first noted in the mid-1990s. Efforts to reverse decades of harmful impacts to their ecosystem culminated in 2015 with the announcement of the Bureau of Land Management’s comprehensive sage-grouse management plans. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke’s recent order stands to derail and set back this unprecedented effort.

The BLM’s 2015 plan for Oregon worked in concert with the companion State of Oregon plan to protect habitat on both public and private lands. And despite the long, successful stakeholder collaboration here in Oregon the Trump Administration has begun tearing down the BLM plans.

Here are some of ONDA’s concerns and objections to Zinke’s recommendations:

The Secretarial Order doesn’t follow the best available science.

Secretary Zinke’s order recommends moving away from a habitat-management model for sage-grouse to one based on population objectives, contrary to nearly unanimous scientific input advising habitat protection. Adopting a population-based approach doesn’t acknowledge the highly cyclical nature of sage-grouse populations and it fails to address habitat loss and degradation as the primary factor of population declines.

The best way forward for sage-grouse is a consistent range-wide approach, driven by broad local input, not the piecemeal management that this order will create.

The Department of the Interior is touting how these changes will provide “flexibility to states.” In reality sage-grouse don’t care about state boundaries or politically motivated handouts to industry. What sage-grouse need is connected, intact habitat and that comes from a consistent management approach. Managing that habitat on a large scale is basic conservation biology. Even if we can maintain strong conservation here in Oregon it will do little good if sage-grouse habitat in neighboring states is severely impacted.

The Secretarial Order recommends stripping protections from the very best habitat areas.

BLM’s 2015 plans identified the “best of best” sage-grouse habitat. Two of these areas, known as Sagebrush Focal Areas – or SFAs, are here in Oregon. Secretary Zinke’s order suggests removing the SFA designations to allow more “flexibility” for mining, oil and gas leasing and infrastructure development to happen in these important areas. Pretending that more development in SFA’s won’t impact sage-grouse is akin to someone putting a smoke-belching factory in your living room and saying you won’t notice a thing.

The current plan isn’t broken, and it needs time to work.

Although far from perfect, the BLM’s 2015 plans are a meaningful step toward sage-grouse recovery, and shouldn’t be undercut just as they are beginning to take effect. Without the complete and robust implementation of the plans, sage-grouse habitat and population recovery will once again be in jeopardy.

The Secretarial Order prioritizes the interests of the mining and oil and gas industries, while the 2015 plan had broad, bipartisan support from constituents across the West.

Three out of four voters (76%) who live near sage-grouse habitat areas believe it is important to protect sage-grouse habitat. This includes 68% of Republicans, 78% of Independents and 95% of Democrats.[1] Both Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado and Republican Gov. Matt Mead of Wyoming, who co-chair a federal-state sage grouse task force, told Secretary Zinke they opposed moving the plan away from a scientifically supported, habitat-based management model.

Scrapping the BLM sage-grouse plans throws years of effort and hundreds of millions of dollars out the window.

The 2015 plan came with more than $750 million in commitments from the government and outside groups to conserve land and restore the bird’s habitat, and an incredible amount of time and energy from hundreds of agency staff, diverse stakeholders and countless volunteers.

In just the past year and a half, ONDA volunteers and staff have spent more than six months in eastern Oregon monitoring sage-grouse breeding grounds and habitat, and we are just one of dozens of stakeholders invested in the development and implementation of the sage-grouse recovery efforts in Oregon. Multiply that across a decade and throughout the 11 states with sage-grouse habitat, and the total effort devoted to sage-grouse recovery is monumental.


Oregon’s Governor and Senators should push back against this ill-advised order by Secretary Zinke because it will endanger sage-grouse populations. To do that, they need to hear from constituents who value a healthy sagebrush-steppe ecosystem. As an ONDA member, volunteer, or supporter, your connection to sagebrush habitat makes you an authoritative voice. Be a champion for the sage-grouse by telling your elected officials why you support strong sage-grouse conservation.


If you want dive in and read Secretary Zinke’s order or the BLM report that would dismantle sage-grouse conservation, you can find them here.


[1] Poll Shows Western Voters Support BLM Plans on Sage-Grouse Habitat (July 2015)