Sage Grouse Must Wait


Ever spent hours waiting for assistance in a doctor’s office while other, more urgent patients were seen first? Then you can imagine how some of us feel about Friday’s decision to leave the sage grouse hanging about in the waiting room.
On March 5, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) concluded that the sage grouse, a rare bird native to America’s dwindling sagebrush plains, could face extinction if it doesn’t receive protections under the Endangered Species Act. However, the agency says it is currently too busy working on more urgent cases to move forward with listing the birds at this time.
The agency designated the sage grouse as “warranted but precluded” for federal protection – a category the birds could remain in for years, even decades, while their numbers shrink and their remaining habitat becomes more and more attractive to developers. Sage grouse have already vanished from nearly half of their historic territory, and the prairie and sagebrush lands that the rare birds depend on have increasingly become targets for oil, gas and wind energy development as well as increased agricultural use and grazing.
 The plight of the sage grouse demonstrates the urgent need to provide additional resources to the agencies charged with protecting our nation’s most vulnerable wildlife. Unfortunately, the Obama administration has proposed a cut in funding for listing endangered species. That needs to change if sage grouse and other species are going to receive the protection they deserve.
Anyone who has heard the drumming of male sage grouse as they perform their mating dance knows that these birds are part of our heritage and the American West. (If you haven’t had the chance, check out this great video from FWS!) And the fact that sage grouse are in trouble tells us that their sagebrush habitat is in trouble, too.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced plans on Friday to identify priority habitat for the sage grouse, and require additional reviews for any projects that might be sited in this priority habitat.  If the BLM proposal works as it should, it could help defuse a growing threat to the sage grouse and their habitat: increasing development pressure from wind energy, whose proponents were quick to seize on the FWS announcement as good news for wind developers.
Renewable energy sources like wind and solar are key to our energy future and energy independence. But poorly planned wind farms can harm the birds, driving them from their breeding grounds and destroying habitat with turbines and transmission lines.
Smart planning will help us avoid repeating past mistakes by siting wind farms in places where wind energy can be harnessed responsibly – without impacting imperiled sage grouse. Responsible energy development must take land and wildlife needs into consideration. So while sage grouse twiddle their feathers in the ESA’s waiting room, all stakeholders have a responsibility to work together to find ways to help sage grouse make a strong comeback.

Cat Lazaroff is communications director for Defenders of Wildlife.

Mar 09, 2010 06:24 PM
Sage grouse tend to thrive where domestic range sheep are grazed. The sheep "trim" the sagebrush so that it is neither too heavy nor too thinned. Sheep producers control the predators, mainly coyotes, who are a major cause of sage grouse loss. The birds are sensitive to disturbances such as vehicles and noise. Unfortunately, they seem to love windy country ideally suited to wind energy production. They also seem to be good detectors of underground petroleum resources.
Sage grouse & US Fish Wildlife service
richard stahl
richard stahl
Mar 10, 2010 01:24 PM
This is the second time around for grouse. Precluded from listing means the federal agency can't afford to work on anymore species, due to a lack of funding. Really? When I worked for the US Fish & Wildlife Service they had more than 10,200 staff, 2000 volunteers and a budget of $$3.3 Billion. If you're curious pull up and their budget,then check their staff levels. Nealy all thier funding goes to refuges. And the ESAct? Well it gets only $164 million and a measley 660 staff for 1500 listed species and growing.
What you will find is this: 8 of every 10 staff work on a refuge, law enforcement or regional offices. Out of 10,200 staff only 623 work on listing or protecting species. In Florida we have more than 65 species listed- not one has been recovered. Ecological Services work on 'take' permits, allowing developers to destroy habitat all over the nation. Until and unless this trend stops, the agency will never list controversial species. Much worse, the critters now listed may never recover.
Five years ago a petition to list the sage grouse was submitted and all the states said they'd help to prevent listing. Wyoming let grouse hunting go on, despite research that 80% of grouse radio tracked were dying from mosquitoes & west nile virus. Mosquitoes in the sage you ask but where is the water for the little disease vectors in the dry uplands? Wells that pump water via coal bed methane drilling, wells that pump water into holding ponds where mosquitoes breed.
We've lost most rare species in Florida, CA and Hawaii where more than 90% of all listed critters live. We nearly lost the species that live in ancient forests of the Northwest. One tree in particular we almost lost has a unique story, the Pacific Yes. Seems this tree is a favored roost tree for a certain owl. Time was in the Forest Service we cut this tree down, clear cut every tree to make way for a new forest. Thing is this tree has special bark that makes taxol that is 90+% effective against ovarian cancer. Not that an owl is more important than people or oil and gas,salmon in the Columbia or a snail darter in TN.

Why did we write the Endangered Species Act, was it to protect our legacy or the animal in question? We started with national parks, monuments and 200+ refuges. We gained grizzly bears and now wolves but when they could not read the boundry signs we simply killed them. What is important about our heritage is what goes missing and what we miss we wish to protect. So if we put some money aside from oil/gas royalties or wind energy we could afford more staff to work on listed species. Because the last thing I'd want to be is precluded from my heritage