REPORT: Robust Energy Development and Sage Brush Habitat Conservation Can Coexist

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A new report commissioned by Western Values Project shows that almost none of the most important habitat for Greater sage-grouse is producing energy of any kind, and that there is very little land for productive future energy development in the sage-grouse’s habitat. Meanwhile, 73–81% of areas with medium to high potential for energy development fall outside the sage-grouse’s habitat.

The report—conducted by Western EcoSystems Technology—looks at “Priority Areas for Conservation” for sage-grouse that have been identified by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and evaluates the overlap between these areas and existing leases and rights-of-way for energy development. The report also analyzes development potential for oil and gas, solar, and wind energy on federal land within the Priority Areas of Conservation.

The report concludes that overlap between the best acres for energy development and the Priority Areas for Conservation are minimal or, in some cases, nonexistent. A balanced approach to protecting the sage-grouse’s habitat—along with the hundreds of wildlife species and the numerous recreational uses that share the sagebrush ecosystem—is therefore compatible with continued energy development in the American West.

The report follows a Western Values Project and Pew Charitable Trusts study demonstrating how the sagebrush ecosystems support over $1 billion in economic output, and a Pew poll that shows that over three quarters of western voters support sage-grouse conservation.

The results of the report:

“Put simply, robust energy development and sage-grouse habitat conservation can and do coexist,” said Ross Lane, Director of Western Values Project. “This report is just further proof that BLM and the states have the opportunity right now to conserve our western way of life—and they need to take that opportunity. The verdict is in: Greater sage-grouse conservation protects hundreds of millions of dollars for western economies without putting energy development at risk.”

The sage-grouse—which shares its habitat with hundreds of wildlife species such as elk, mule deer, pronghorn, and the golden eagle—can only live in the sagebrush in the western plains. This sagebrush habitat has shrunk to half of the size it once was, leading to its quick decline.

Protecting the sage-grouse habitat would conserve open spaces and protect other wildlife so Americans can enjoy activities like hiking, camping, hunting and fishing. And a recent report by Pew Charitable Trusts and the Western Values Project showed that conserving sage-grouse habitat also means conserving about $1.06 billion in economic output that the sagebrush ecosystems support.

A Pew poll released in June shows that well over three-fourths of voters in the American West say it is important to protect the sage-grouse habitat, and an overwhelming majority support stronger Bureau of Land Management plans to protect the bird and its habitat.

Western Values Project has called on leaders from the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management and western states to work in concert toward working with all stakeholders to develop strong, proactive plans to conserve the sage-grouse and its habitat.

The report can be found here.

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