Fighting for the Greater Sage-Grouse

Greater Sage-Grouse.

Image: http://www.wyofile.com/

On September 22nd, it was decided that the greater sage-grouse will not be protected under the Endangered Species Act. This news comes as a delight to ranchers, big industry leaders, and some conservationists while other environmentalists think this decision isn’t doing all it can for the sage-grouse.

These birds call eleven Western sagebrushes (the Sagebrush Sea, approximately 165 million acres) their home and are not keen to human development. They depend on the sagebrush for food, especially in the winter, and conservation of the sage-grouse would benefit many other species that also rely on the sagebrush for survival. Watching their unique mating ritual is a treat for visitors as well, one that shows the sage-grouse strutting and fanning their tail feathers about theatrically.

Greater sage-grouse doing mating dance.

A greater sage-grouse showing off his feathers and dancing in an attempt to woe some females. [Image: http://naturemappingfoundation.org/]

As development continues out West, the greater sage-grouse suffer and have been steadily declining for decades. In 2010, their populations were low enough that they should have been protected under the Endangered Species Act, however, the federal government claimed to have other priorities that led to it not being added. Some environmental groups believe this was done out of economic pressure from the oil, gas, mining, and agriculture industries.

The greater sage-grouse avoided being added to the list again due to heavily managed land-use plans by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service, which ensure that public and private land will be protected and improved with the greater sage-grouse in mind. Again, however, there is a split on opinions with this ruling. Some environmental groups are saying that the ruling isn’t strict enough while big industries affected by these limitations are saying they’re too harsh. In the end, these big companies face less constricting restraints than what they would have had to endure if the bird had been listed as endangered.

Greater sage-grouse mid-flight.

Image: http://www.natgeocreative.com/

In the meantime, both sides are threatening litigation to either reduce the limitations or have the sage-grouse be protected under the Endangered Species Act. The sage-grouse’s eligibility for being listed as an endangered species will be reevaluated in five years, in which time its population will hopefully start to grow regardless of what happens in court.

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