Executive Order coordinates agencies to protect Sage Grouse habitat in Wyoming
by Governor Freudenthal’s office
August 1, 2008
(Cheyenne). - In an unprecedented move to coordinate sage grouse conservation efforts across the State of Wyoming, Gov. Dave Freudenthal today released an Executive Order that asks state agencies to work to maintain and enhance greater sage grouse habitat in Wyoming.
The greater sage grouse is an iconic species that inhabits much of the sagebrush-steppe habitat in Wyoming, and robust populations of the bird currently exist across the state. However, several petitions to list the bird as threatened are currently before the U.S. Department of the Interior, and the Executive Order notes that such a listing would have a significant adverse affects on the economy, customs and culture of the State of Wyoming.
For years the state has supported the efforts of the Sage Grouse Local Working Groups, the Sage Grouse Implementation Team and others who have worked to develop and implement conservation strategies.
"A lot of good work has been done to maintain healthy populations of sage grouse and other species in Wyoming," Gov. Freudenthal said. "But as we learned with the grizzly bear and wolf, if it is going to count for anything under the Endangered Species Act process - both in terms of our efforts to de-list already listed species and to prevent the listing of other sensitive species - our work has to be more unified under the banner of what the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service terms ‘adequate regulatory mechanisms.’ The Executive Order does not create any new authority and legally only applies to state agencies, but is a vehicle to at least align the existing authorities of state government to ensure that we move forward under a more unified framework."
The Governor noted that long before the first petitions were filed to list the species, the State of Wyoming, the Wyoming Legislature, state and federal agencies, industry and landowners were working to improve habitat, fund mapping and habitat projects and to find better ways to drill and mine for the state’s energy resources.
The recommendations spelled out in the Executive Order originated in the work of the Sage Grouse Implementation Team. This group emerged from the Governor’s Sage Grouse Summit, which was jointly held in Casper with the U.S. Department of the Interior and Assistant Secretary Steve Allred in June of last year.
On March 25, 2008, the Governor received a map of "core population areas" for sage grouse and recommendations from the team that suggested conservation efforts be directed to these areas. In April, the Governor’s Office forwarded the map and recommendations to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for its review and comment.
In a May 7, 2008 letter, Brian Kelly of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said "[t]he Service does indeed believe the ‘core population area strategy’ is a sound framework for a policy by which to conserve Greater Sage-Grouse in Wyoming." He concluded his letter encouraging that "all seasonal habitats to sustain the core population areas are identified and incorporated into the strategy, and associated maps, once the State’s mapping project is complete."
With the state’s mapping effort already underway, to be completed later this year, Wyoming is well positioned to stave off the listing of the sage grouse.
The 12 stipulations spelled out in the Executive Order include:
1. Management by state agencies should, to the greatest extent possible, focus on the maintenance and enhancement of those Greater Sage-Grouse habitats and populations within the Core Population Areas identified by the Sage Grouse Implementation Team and modified through additional habitat and population mapping efforts.
2. Current management and existing land uses within Core Population Areas should be recognized and respected by state agencies.
3. New development or land uses within Core Population Areas should be authorized or conducted only when it can be demonstrated by the state agency that the activity will not cause declines in Greater Sage-Grouse populations.
4. Funding, assurances (including state-conducted efforts to develop Candidate Conservation Agreements and Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances), habitat enhancement, reclamation efforts, mapping and other associated proactive efforts to assure viability of Greater Sage-Grouse in Wyoming should be focused and prioritized to take place in Core Population Areas.
5. State agencies should use a non-regulatory approach to influence management alternatives within Core Population Areas, to the greatest extent possible. Management alternatives should reflect unique localized conditions, including soils, vegetation, development type, climate and other local realities.
6. Incentives to enable development of all types outside Core Population Areas should be established (these should include stipulation waivers, enhanced permitting processes, density bonuses, and other incentives). However, such development scenarios should be designed and managed to maintain populations, habitats and essential migration routes outside Core Population Areas.
7. Incentives to accelerate or enhance required reclamation in habitats adjacent to Core Population Areas should be developed, including but not limited to stipulation waivers, funding for enhanced reclamation, and other strategies.
8. Existing rights should be recognized and respected.
9. On-the-ground enhancements, monitoring, and ongoing planning relative to sage grouse and sage grouse habitat should be facilitated by sage grouse local working groups whenever possible.
10. Fire suppression efforts in Core Population Areas should be emphasized, recognizing that other local, regional, and national suppression priorities may take precedent. However, public and firefighter safety remains the number one priority on all wildfires.
11. State agencies work collaboratively with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, and other federal agencies to ensure, to the greatest extent possible, a uniform and consistent application of this Executive Order to maintain and enhance Greater Sage-Grouse habitats and populations.
12. State agencies shall work collaboratively with local governments and private landowners to maintain and enhance Greater Sage-Grouse habitats and populations in a manner consistent with this Executive Order.
"While we initially were concerned with getting the state’s house in order, what we have functionally done is bring others to the table - including federal land managers and regulatory agencies and private landowners - to knit together a plan that addresses state and federal land and offers private landowners incentives to voluntarily participate in our collective effort to make sure the sage grouse isn’t listed," Freudenthal noted. "The Executive Order is not an end in itself, it is really just a way to demonstrate that the state’s ante is on the table. Wyoming’s efforts, matched with those of our federal partners and private landowners, will hopefully start us down the road to the point where no one even looks at needing to list the grouse in this state."
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to make a decision regarding the listing of the sage grouse within the year. The state has already made a formal submission of data and information to inform the decision, but as more information is developed and as state, federal, local and private efforts such as the Executive Order are put forward, the earlier submission will be supplemented.
To read the Executive Order in its entirety and view other materials, visit: http://governor.wy.gov/media/documents.html.