Heinrich Passes Critical Bipartisan Legislation to Protect Sagebrush Habitat

WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM) announced the passage of the Sage-Grouse and Mule Deer Habitat Conservation and Restoration Act by unanimous consent in the Senate. He introduced the bipartisan legislation with U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) to streamline scientifically-recognized vegetation management projects to conserve or restore the habitat of the sage-grouse and mule deer, and reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire.

"As a Westerner and as a hunter, I'm proud to pass this important habitat restoration legislation," said Heinrich. "Restoring historic sagebrush landscapes to their natural state is vital for mule deer and other sage-dependent species and mitigating the risk of dangerous wildfires. This victory for conservation and outdoor traditions is something that Republicans and Democrats can agree on. This is the kind of bipartisan solution that we need more of to conserve wildlife habitat and protect hunting opportunities."

"Today's victory is something that both sportsmen and conservationists should celebrate," said Hatch. "I am proud to have spent years of hard work with my partner, Senator Heinrich, toward a shared goal of reducing wildfire risk and conserving sagebrush habitat and species, such as the sage-grouse and mule deer, that live within. Legislation like this revives confidence in the ability of senators from across the aisle to put their differences aside and come together to enact commonsense legislation that satisfies the diverse stakeholders that rely on thriving sagebrush habitat."

According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, Piñon and Juniper forests have been encroaching on key sagebrush habitat at a rapid rate. This invasion erodes and fragments sagebrush habitat and provides artificial roosting and nesting sites for sage-grouse predators. Tree removal also carries widespread ecological benefits, such as reduction of catastrophic wildfire risk. Wildlife managers in the West have long worked to return Piñon and Juniper stands to sagebrush because doing so increases forage and soil water availability, which improves wildlife carrying capacity and benefits big game populations, particularly mule deer.

Although tree expansion is a natural process normally controlled by naturally-occurring wildfire, fire suppression efforts over the years have allowed expansion to go unchecked. As a result, trees have spread to areas they have not historically occupied, increasing the risk of large-scale, uncontrollable wildfires. Fortunately, federal restoration projects have been successful in removing these trees without threatening the natural habitat, and this legislation helps build on these successes.

This legislation makes it easier for land managers and wildlife organizations to work together on vegetation management projects that benefit the environment, and it gives the Bureau of Land Management the tools it needs to better preserve precious habitats for both sage-grouse and mule deer.

Statements of Support

Miles Moretti, Mule Deer Foundation President & CEO: "The Mule Deer Foundation greatly appreciates the Senate approving the Hatch-Heinrich Bill that will help restore our native western rangelands. MDF has been actively involved in many habitat stewardship projects including removing encroaching junipers or replanting native grasses, shrubs, and forbs that benefit mule deer and many other species. Senate passage of this bill takes us one step closer to enactment which will allow us to move more quickly after natural disasters providing even greater benefits for these important landscapes. We hope that the U.S. House of Representatives quickly passes their legislation and we will work closely with all sponsors to get this legislation enacted as soon as possible."

Lawrence Keane, Senior Vice President and General Counsel, National Shooting Sports Foundation: "The National Shooting Sports Foundation applauds Senators Hatch and Heinrich on Senate passage of the Sage-Grouse and Mule Deer Conservation and Restoration Act. When enacted, this important legislation will benefit grouse and mule deer populations throughout their ranges while also reducing the threat of catastrophic wildfire."

Collin O'Mara, President and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation: "From mule deer and pronghorn to golden eagles and sage grouse, the restoration of America's sagebrush habitat is essential to the recovery of more than 350 wildlife species. We greatly appreciate Senator Hatch and Senator Heinrich's bipartisan commitment to America's wildlife by improving sagebrush restoration activities, while still ensuring environmental safeguards."