Current State of Sage-Grouse in Wyoming

The Greater Sage-Grouse and Sagebrush-Steppe Habitat Type in Wyoming
Wyoming has abundant sagebrush-steppe habitat across the state and the Greater Sage-Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) inhabits most of this habitat. Consequently, the state of Wyoming currently enjoys large populations of Greater Sage-Grouse.
The Push to have the Sage-Grouse Listed as a Threatened or Endangered Species
The Greater Sage-Grouse has been the subject of several petitions to list the species as threatened or endangered pursuant to the Endangered Species Act. Based on their 12 month finding the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) determined that listing the Greater Sage-Grouse as a threatened or endangered species is warranted over all of its range, including the populations in Wyoming. However, the USFWS has determined that listing the Greater Sage-Grouse as threatened or endangered is currently precluded by higher priority listing actions, resulting in the Greater Sage-Grouse currently being termed a “candidate” species under the auspices of the Endangered Species Act. The USFWS is required to review the status of all candidate species every year and resolution of final listing determination for Greater Sage-grouse is expected in 2015.
Actions to Manage the Greater Sage-Grouse to Reduce or Eliminate the Need to List the Bird as Threatened or Endangered
The state of Wyoming has management authority over Greater Sage-Grouse populations in Wyoming and the Wyoming State Legislature and several state and federal agencies have dedicated significant resources to conserve Greater Sage-Grouse populations in the State. Wyoming has developed a "Core Population Area" strategy to weave the many on-going efforts to conserve the Greater Sage-Grouse into a statewide strategy. Members of the Sixtieth Legislature of the State of Wyoming signed a Joint Resolution recognizing "the Greater Sage-Grouse Core Area Strategy [then embodied under Governor's Executive Order 2008-2] as the State of Wyoming's primary regulatory mechanism to conserve sage-grouse and preclude the need for listing the bird as a threatened or endangered species pursuant to the Endangered Species Act of 1973."

Also, several western states have adopted, or are considering adopting, state regulatory mechanisms similar to the Wyoming Core Area Strategy, thus providing some regulatory consistency across the species range.

Creation of Core Areas

Evolution of the Core Areas
March 6th, 2008 – Kevin Doherty (Audubon Wyoming), Nyssa Whitford (Wyoming Game and Fish Department), Dave Lockman (Wildlife Management Services of the Rockies, LLC), and Renee Taylor and associates (Taylor Environmental Consulting LLC) gathered in Laramie, WY to create a map of sage-grouse breeding density thresholds, based on a modeling method established by Kevin Doherty.

March 17th, 2008 – The Sage-Grouse Implementation Team (SGIT), comprised of various industry representatives, non-governmental organization representatives, and various state and federal government agency representatives, used pooled knowledge to draw the first version of the core areas on a map using the Doherty sage-grouse breading density data as reference while meeting in Lander, WY.

August 7th, 2008 – The SGIT approves changes to version 1 of the core areas made by Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Buffalo, WY Field Office to have the core areas reflect legal and administrative boundary lines and account for local conditions, resulting in the creation of version 2.

In an effort to further the core area concept and refine the boundaries based on local conditions and more up-to-date threats to sage-grouse habitat, each Local Working Group (LWG) met at least once to make edge adjustments of the core area boundaries. Each LWG worked with the 2009 National Agricultural Imagery Program (NAIP) imagery to evaluate habitat and topography, and a series of other maps at an approximate scale of 1:90,000 for core areas, oil/gas development, mining permit boundaries, permitted wind development, sage-grouse leks, and base data (roads, counties, etc.). Each LWG also had sagebrush habitat maps, Wildlife Observation System sage-grouse observation data, human footprint data, updated sage-grouse breeding density, and many other supplemental datasets to guide their decisions.

The SGIT reviewed the recommendations from each LWG and all available data, including a review of seasonal use data in order to better ensure that winter and other seasonal use areas were sufficiently captured within Core Areas, to finalize the boundary lines, resulting in the creation of version 3.

In addition to the creation of version 3 of the Core Area the SGIT also identified two “connectivity” habitat corridors in northeast Wyoming to support sage-grouse movement and genetic connectivity with populations in Montana and the Dakotas.

June 29th, 2010 – The finalized version 3 of the core areas were presented and approved by Governor Dave Freudenthal.
Important Dates for the Implementation of Core Areas
April 17th, 2008 - The Office of the Governor requested that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service review the "Core Population Area" strategy to determine if it was a "sound policy that should be moved forward".

May 7th, 2008 – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service responded that the "core population area strategy, as outlined in the Implementation Team's correspondence to the Governor, is a sound framework for a policy by which to conserve greater sage-grouse in Wyoming".

November 10th, 2010 – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service again confirmed that "This long term, science-based vision for the conservation of greater sage-grouse has set the stage for similar conservation efforts across the species range," and that "the Core Population Area Strategy for the greater sage-grouse provides an excellent model for meaningful conservation of sage-grouse if fully supported and implemented".

Permitting Process

Point of Contact
The first point of contact for addressing sage-grouse issues for any state permit application should be the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD). Project proponents (proponents) need to have a thorough description of their project and identify the potential effects on sage-grouse prior to submitting an application to the permitting agency (details such as a draft project implementation area analysis, habitat maps and any other information will help to expedite the project). Project proponents should contact WGFD at least 45-60 days prior to submitting their application. More complex projects will require more time. It is understood that WGFD has a role of consultation, recommendation, and facilitation, and has no authority to either approve or deny the project. The purpose of the initial consultation with the WGFD is to become familiar with the project proposal and ensure the project proponent understands recommended stipulations and stipulation implementation process.
Maximum Disturbance Evaluation
All activities will be evaluated within the context of maximum allowable disturbance (disturbance percentages, location and number of disturbances) of suitable sage-grouse habitat within the area affected by the project. The maximum disturbance allowed will be examined via a Density/Disturbance Calculation Tool (DDCT) process conducted by the Federal Land Management Agency on federal Land and the project proponent on non-federal (private, state) land.
Density and Disturbance Calculation Tool Process
Determine all occupied leks within a core population area that may be affected by the project by placing a four-mile boundary around the project boundary, as defined by the proposed area of disturbance related to the project. All occupied leks located within the four-mile boundary and within a core population area will be identified as “affected” by the project for the purpose of the tool.

A four-mile boundary will then be placed around the perimeter of each identified lek. The core population area within the boundary of identified leks and the four-mile boundary around the project boundary creates the DDCT examination area for each individual project. Disturbance will be examined for the DDCT examination area as a whole and for each individual affected lek within the DDCT examination area. Any portion of the DDCT examination area occurring outside of core area will be removed from the examination area.

If there are no affected leks within the four-mile boundary around the project boundary, the DDCT examination area will be that portion of the four-mile project boundary within the core population area.
Disturbance Calculation
Total disturbance acres within the DDCT examination area will be determined through an evaluation of:
  • Existing disturbance.
  • Approved permits, which have approval for on the ground activity, but have not yet been implemented.
  • Proposed disturbance.
The total disturbance is limited to no more than 5% of the total suitable habitat within the DDCT examination area.
Density Calculation
Energy development and mineral extraction are limited in the density of the operations. Oil and gas well densities are not to exceed an average of one pad per square mile (640 acres) within the DDCT examination area. For mining activities, the number of active mining development areas (e.g., operating equipment and/or significant human activity) is not to exceed an average of one site per square mile (640 acres) within the DDCT examination area.
Density and Disturbance Calculation
Projects are evaluated based on both disturbance and density. For additional information please refer to the following documents:

Executive Order - Greater Sage-Grouse Core Area Protection

Greater Sage-Grouse Habitat Management Policy on Wyoming BLM Administered Public Lands Including the Federal Mineral Estate