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Executive Order Establishes Sage Grouse Conservation Plan

A sage grouse lek in Montana.
NRCS - Montana

Governor Steve Bullock issued an executive order today that he says will help protect sage grouse and ensure the bird remains under state - not federal - management.

Sage grouse are found in 11 states. They've lost over half their historic habitat to development.

Bullock says the Sage Grouse Habitat Conservation Program provides incentives for landowners to conserve important habitat. It establishes what are called "no surface occupancy zones" around key breeding areas where resource extraction work would be prohibited.

"At the end of the day nobody got everything they wanted, but we know that by coming together and working together we're going to be in a lot better position than, if ultimately, we can't manage this and it's managed by Washington D.C."

Bullock says an executive order was the best way to implement this plan:

"The easiest decision would have been to do nothing and hope the legislature solves it; but that's not what's going to protect the bird and allow Montana to, sort of, work and develop on our own terms."

Montana Audubon Program Director, Janet Ellis, says the plan is good for sage grouse because it focuses on private land conservation and ensures habitat won't be fragmented. Ellis says the plan is a "great step in the right direction":

"What's good for sage grouse and sage brush is also good for a whole host of at-risk wildlife species. So, this program that has been launched today is particularly important because it's a win for wildlife."

The executive director of the Montana Petroleum Association, Dave Galt, also supports this plan, even though he says it will have impacts on the oil and gas industry:

"You can disturb the surface on 32 acres of a section, provided it hasn't had disturbance in the past. that's a significant issue, but it's also the same thing that's occuring in Wyoming, but the industry's been able to work in Wyoming."

Galt adds there are also buffer zones for sage grouse mating grounds. However, he says that plan works in Wyoming and state management is always preferable to federal management.

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