More gas, less grouse


By Courtney Lowery, guest blogger, 10-27-09

A new study shows that sage grouse, up for Endangered Species listing in February, will face even bigger population declines in the Mountain West if energy development progresses as Bureau of Land Management expects it to.

The three year study, published earlier this month in the peer-reviewed PLoS One science journal as well as here on, warns that energy development plans on BLM land in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Montana and North and South Dakota could lead to a 7-19 percent loss of population for the bird.

The study’s authors, which include The Nature Conservancy in Lander, Wyoming, the National Audubon Society in Laramie, Wyoming and the University of Montana’s Wildlife Biology Program are clear about the goal of the research: To help decision makers craft a better oil and gas development pattern that would shift exploration to less sensitive grouse habitat. If done right, the authors say, oil and gas development could keep the sage grouse safe and off the ESA list.

One of the co-authors, David Naugle, a wildlife landscape ecologist at the University of Montana, tells the New York Times: “The answer to energy development in the West is not ‘no,’ but rather ‘where.’ I think our nation’s energy independence is paramount. Thus, the way we designed this study was to be helpful.”

Scott Streater’s piece in the Times’ Greenwire blog does a good job of summing up the report here. And, you can read the full report here.

Anonymous says:
Oct 30, 2009 11:31 AM
What are they basing their information on, a projected loss? past loss? A study, or example to take a look at might be in the Carlsbad New Mexico area, whose population of threatened and endangered has increased (maybe due to heightened awareness) in recent years, inspite of the increased oil production. When leases are given on public lands, there are stipulations added to them to protect endangered species, everyone becomes more sensitive to the species.
Anonymous says:
Nov 03, 2009 10:10 AM
You can read the article for yourself: PLoS (Public Library of Science) is explicitly open-access.

Most of the study is actually modeling where gas development is likely, using complex statistical methods (similar to what production geologists use: yes, "CART" and "weak leamers" and "out of bag" are jargon for well-accepted statistical methods, and no, "random forests" has nothing to do with the kind of trees that photosynthesize). Those results are then combined with empirical data on 11 year declines in sage grouse numbers on leks over time for all leks in Wyoming, predicted by variation in development intensity and years of development around each lek (from Doherty's PhD dissertation). Combining maps of where sage grouse currently are and the projected/potential gas development with the grouse responses to development from the Wyoming data, they computed estimates of sage grouse declines under 2 buildout scenarios. Under the BLM "reasonable foreseeable development", they estimated a 7% decline; under an unconstrained development of all areas in the top 25% of gas potential the estimate was 19% decline.

Not to be too picky, but no, the Nature Conservancy and National Audubon Society are NOT authors on the paper, neither is U Montana's Wildlife Biology program. The authors are Copeland, Doherty, Naugle, Pocewicz, and Kiesecker: TNC, Audubon, & U Montana are the author's affiliations. My best guess based on the funding statement (something PLoS does but most scientific & medical, let alone public policy journals. don't require) indicates that funding for the study came from the Liz Claibourne Art Ortenberg Foundation, TNC, National Audubon, and U Montana; TNC & Audubon likely by salaries of their employees, U Montana by 9-month salary of Naugle and possibly a small grant for summer research to him or to Doherty when he was a PhD student there, and the foundation money to cover expenses such as travel & perhaps acquisition of some of the geologic data.
Anonymous says:
Nov 04, 2009 10:42 AM
My grandfather belonged to the Isaac Walton League of Chicago and the Campfire Club of Chicago and was an avid hunter and fisherman. My father hunted and fished as well. They both understood that money from licenses helped protect the habitat of the wildlife they then hoped to kill. An interesting paradox. But at least they understood something about ecology and environment from a time when those words were not yet being used by a broad band of population. Along comes widespread conversation about conservation and the "need for speed" sometimes fueled by greed or good 'ol capitalism and American know how. What now about all the lives dependent on the land humans want for their own purposes? All the lives of every living being with whom we are connected? Why does the wildlife always end up with the short end of the stick?