A Major Conservation Success Story: The Greater Sage-Grouse

The Greater Sage-Grouse is a spectacular, eccentric bird with a notably full-bodied breast. Its loud presence and bold mating calls serve as a constant reminder of the species’ importance within its ecosystem, even as it blends into the sagebrush that makes up its home in the American West. The health of the species is an indicator of the health of its entire surrounding ecosystem, both of which have declined in recent years. Various factors have threatened the livelihood of the Greater Sage-Grouse and its numbers have plummeted to between 200,000 and 500,000 from what was once millions just one century ago. By 2010, these dwindling numbers led the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to investigate the bird’s case for protection under the Endangered Species Act, prompting immediate action by an unprecedented range of contributors.

Private landowners, states, the federal government, and environmental organizations including partners of The Moore Charitable Foundation, Audubon and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, launched a cooperative plan to conserve the Greater Sage-Grouse in what has become the largest conservation effort in US history. The effort aimed for coexistence between the bird’s sagebrush habitat and industrial developments. As an Audubon article commends, “[Collaborators] have made ambitious commitments to protect enough space for the bird while still permitting some development.”

To lend some examples of these kinds of commitments, Brian Rutledge, an executive at Audubon, worked to implement a sage-grouse management plan in Wyoming, limiting surface disturbance in the habitat. The plan has since placed 15 million acres of sagebrush habitat under protection, saving countless birds among other wildlife species. Furthermore, the USDA’s Sage Grouse Initiative allowed for more than 4 million acres of conservation easements for ranchers in the region.

On September 22, to recognize the success of a decade of conservation effort, Interior Secretary Jewell announced that the Greater Sage-Grouse would not be listed under the Endangered Species Act. The Moore Charitable Foundation commends this amazing and well-deserved success for partners Audubon and Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, along with all other public and private organizations that helped to orchestrate this accomplishment.

To remain outside the bounds of the Endangered Species Act means that these collaboration efforts are effective and have achieved what they set out to do— conserve the Greater Sage-Grouse, raise awareness about the importance of conservation, and allow for economic growth in the region. As Brian Rutledge explains, “This is the kind of cooperation the Endangered Species Act is designed to encourage. It wasn’t intended to list everything under the sun; it was to motivate conservation before listing became necessary.”