Protecting The Iconic Birds In Our Backyard, The Utah Conservation Plan for Greater Sage Grouse

Jan 30, 2019

A male sage grouse struts his stuff

Utah Governor Gary Herbert recently announced an update to Utah state’s greater sage grouse conservation plan. UPR’s Ashley Rohde talked to conservation specialists about changes to the plan and the current conservation status of the bird in Utah.

“Ultimately the decline of sage grouse is because we’ve lost sagebrush habitat," said Dr. Terry Messmer who has been working with greater sage grouse since the mid-1990s and has contributed to science in both state and federal conservation plans.

He says the updated Utah plan incorporates the best available science about sage grouse life history and habitat needs, as well as incorporating provisions for the concerns of stakeholders who are affected by conservation regulations.

“You have to bring those two worlds together, and one way to converge those is through science.  But it’s not only just doing the science, it’s actively engaging the communities in the science while you're doing it.”

The Utah conservation plan was created in 2013. The plan lays out goals for improving sage grouse habitat within Utah.

“I think the federal and state plans are a lot better than they were five years ago, and that’s because of the cumulation of all the years and years of science that we’ve done," Messmer said. "So I think it’s pretty exciting. “

That federal listing decision will be reviewed in 2020, but currently, management of sage grouse is directed by state officials at the Division of Wildlife Resources.  Ben Nadolski is the policy liaison for the DWR. He is proud of the steps that Utahn’s from many backgrounds have taken to protect sage grouse,

“Here in Utah we have a saying, we call it the 'Utah Way.' he said. "If we see something that needs attention we reach out to our local communities and our partners, we roll up our sleeves, and we do the work together. We are really prolific in our investments for sage grouse.  We’re going to have more and more birds, we hope, but we hope we’re going to have more and more solutions for people too.”

Sage grouse will be a species of conservation concern across the western United States for many years, but Nadolski is optimistic.

“It doesn’t mean we’re done with our work," he said. "It just means that we’re going to have policies in place, and then all of that energy that we’ve spent developing policies and everything, we can put towards implementation.  And that is the time when we’re going to make the biggest difference. When we can all focus on implementation and conservation on the ground, that’s where the bird wins the most.  When the bird wins and people win, Utah wins. ”