October 28, 2020

The Greater Sage-Grouse Story: Do We Have It Right?

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by Matthew A. Cronin

On the Ground
• Greater sage-grouse were found to be threatened or endangered with extinction in a preliminary assessment in 2010, with a final decision on an Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing due in 2015.
• ESA criteria regarding endangered status (in danger of extinction), threatened status (likely to become in danger of extinction), the foreseeable future (in which a species will become in danger of extinction), and a significant portion of a species range (without which a species will be in danger of extinction) are not definitive, rely on predictions, and are all concerned with species extinction, not simply population declines.
• The 2010 ESA determination for sage-grouse relies on observations of declining populations, predictions from models with uncertain assumptions, incomplete population data, and anticipated habitat changes. Prediction of species extinction from this information can be considered speculation, and insufficient for an ESA listing.
• Wildlife management without the encumbrances of the ESA and its associated litigation and regulation can be used to maintain and enhance species that are not in immediate danger of extinction, such as sage-grouse.

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