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Sisolak orders new sagebrush conservation framework as deer, greater sage-grouse numbers drop

Zachary Bright
Zachary Bright
EnvironmentState Government
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Citing fewer fawns per doe and declining numbers of greater sage-grouse, Gov. Steve Sisolak signed a new executive order on Monday that aims to safeguard the state’s sagebrush ecosystem and its animals through a Nevada Habitat Conservation Framework.

In a statement, Sisolak said his executive order was designed to protect the migration patterns of wildlife species ranging from pronghorn to the sage-grouse, who live and move across the sagebrush environments that cover more than half the state. That environment also fuels Nevada's outdoor recreation economy that’s estimated to create 87,000 jobs, generating $4 billion in wages and salaries each year. 

Environmental authorities report that wildfire, invasive species and climate change are putting the sagebrush more than 360 of its species at risk — leading to the framework’s creation and a requirement for state agencies to develop mitigation plans.

“Whether it is mule deer or desert tortoises no animal thrives without a healthy ecosystem,” Sisolak said in a statement, “and this executive order puts a crucial focus on the corridors through which wildlife migrate to survive.” 

The framework will “provide for habitat conservation, restoration, rehabilitation, and protection” for sagebrush lands in coordination with private landowners, federal land management agencies and relevant state and local agencies, according to text from the executive order. It also focuses on providing animals with migration routes that keep them safe from roadways.

Included is the state wildlife department, which through the executive order has been directed to create a Sagebrush Habitat Plan meant to more effectively conserve the declining sage-grouse population and evaluate how policy changes could combat identified threats to the ecosystem at large. The department will also create a Connectivity Plan to be completed by the end of 2023 that will better identify migration corridors and secure those for animals by working with the transportation department to plan infrastructure.

Three department heads in Sisolak’s administration will lead the project. Tony Wasley, who directs the Department of Wildlife, will collaborate with the state departments of conservation (led by Brad Crowell) and transportation (led by Kristina Swallow) to conserve wildlife habitats, address wildfire and invasive species threats and maintain ease of access for animals through the corridors.

The order was lauded by environmental groups and progressive advocates — from Western Resources Advocates to the Institute for a Progressive Nevada — along with sporting groups.

“We look forward to working with the Governor’s office and the Nevada Department of Wildlife in seeing [the framework] implemented so that healthy big game herds in places like the iconic Ruby Mountains will continue to provide world-class outdoor experiences for future generations of sportsmen and women,” said Carl Erquiaga of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

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