Greater sage grouse numbers have plummeted over the past decades as housing and energy development destroy the bird’s habitat. When the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced in 2011 that federal protection was warranted, collaborative conservation efforts kicked into high gear to avoid an Endangered Species Act listing. Last September, the feds announced that the bird would not be listed (“The Endangered Species Act’s biggest experiment,” HCN, 8/17/15).
In early November, federal officials released a plan to gather data about the 500,000-square-mile sagebrush habitat that sage grouse and 350 other species depend on. This blueprint for science-based decisions is a major step in Interior Secretary Sally Jewell’s 2015 strategy to reduce the size and severity of rangeland fires, check the spread of invasives like cheatgrass and restore ecosystem health. “This is the biggest systemic effort to learn more about those ecosystems that we’ve ever seen,” John Freemuth, professor of public policy at Boise State University, told the Associated Press.