For Immediate Release: January 5, 2022
Patrick Kelly, Western Watersheds Project, 208-576-4314, firstname.lastname@example.org
A judge has blocked a decision that would have authorized the grazing of over 16,000 domestic sheep on the Twin Buttes allotment, a vast swath of public lands nearly half the size of Rhode Island. Under the now vacated decision, sheep would have been turned out to graze throughout the winter on top of what the BLM’s own team of sage grouse scientists identified as one of the most important sage grouse connectivity and winter migration corridors north of the Snake River. It was only after Western Watersheds Project brought a challenge in a Department of Interior law court that the Bureau was forced to consider impacts to the struggling sage grouse populations in the area.
“Despite having full access to high quality scientific reports produced by its own team of sage grouse experts for the Twin Buttes area, the BLM chose to ignore the best available science in favor of livestock producers.”, said Patrick Kelly, Idaho Director for Western Watersheds Project. “In a region of Idaho that has seen a 58% percent reduction in sage grouse populations since 2011, turning a blind eye to this imperiled species is both irresponsible and unacceptable. The BLM can and should do better when making decisions that impact habitat crucial to the long term survival of sage grouse.”
The Twin Buttes allotment in Southeastern Idaho contains vital overwintering habitat for sage grouse. The combination of older, intact sagebrush and lower elevations makes the area ideal for sage grouse to find adequate protection from heavy snow while providing a secure place for the birds to ride out the frigid winters of the Upper Snake River region. Through the use of radio telemetry studies conducted by BLM and a multi-agency team of sage grouse researchers, it was revealed that every Fall, large groups of sage grouse make an astonishing 80 mile migration down from the mountains in the north and into the Twin Buttes area to hunker down for the winter. Surrounded on nearly all sides by agricultural development and other human-caused disturbances, this refuge of public lands provides a narrow lifeline to the surrounding mountains, connecting sage grouse with the full suite of seasonal habitats it requires.
It was only after a Freedom of Information Act request made by Western Watersheds Project that the existence of this vital migration corridor was revealed. The BLM reports obtained by Western Watersheds Project lay out in vivid detail both the discovery of this corridor and the subsequent importance of Twin Buttes for overwintering sage grouse. Despite having full access to these reports, the analysis BLM used to justify its decision did not contain a single acknowledgment or reference to this essential information. It instead opted to turn out 16,000 sheep directly over the top of this corridor without any analysis of the impacts this may have on sage grouse migration and connectivity.
“The BLM recently took a step in the right direction by issuing a memorandum directing Bureau offices to incorporate areas of habitat connectivity in land use planning and resource management decisions. While they fell far short of doing so in the case of Twin Buttes, the BLM now has an opportunity to start from scratch and craft a decision that protects and restores habitat connectivity for sage grouse.” said Kelly. “We hope they choose to do the right thing next time around by protecting vital sage grouse migration corridors and habitat from the impacts of domestic sheep, which compete directly with sage grouse for food. We will be watching closely to ensure that they do.”