Salt Lake City, UT. – Wildlife advocates say they’ve found the right tool for the job to help U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke reach his goal of protecting big game corridors for future generations of hunters – and it’s the Greater Sage Grouse Conservation Plan.

This week, the National Wildlife Federation sent maps to Zinke’s office showing that some 70 percent of sage-grouse habitat is classified as important or crucial for big game. Aaron Kindle, senior manager with the federation, says the research confirms that protecting the bird also can protect big-game migration routes.

“They’re the ‘highways’ where big game travel between winter and summer range,” says Kindle. “Hunters have always understood that these pathways are really key to ensuring the vitality of these big game herds that we pursue.”

During February’s Western Hunting and Conservation Expo in Salt Lake City, Zinke announced Secretarial Order 3362, calling for safeguarding migration corridors for mule deer, elk, pronghorn and other game on public lands. But Zinke has also has pushed to remove sage-grouse plan restrictions on oil and gas production in order to achieve the Trump administration’s goal of energy dominance.

Kindle points out a central reason ranchers and energy companies worked with federal and local officials for a decade to create the sage-grouse plan was to prevent the bird from ending up on the endangered species list, since its populations have dropped by as much as 95 percent from historic levels.

“We think that’s the best tool to avert that listing, and continue to have grazing and energy development in a responsible way on public lands,” says Kindle. “You can have development and protect the bird. There’s plenty of domestic energy that can be developed under the plan.”

Kindle says his organization is committed to working with Interior, the states and private landowners to make Zinke’s secretarial order succeed for the sake of some 350 wildlife species that depend on the sagebrush steppe.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service