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Know the West

Biden eyes protections for sage grouse

Here are 11 stats on why that matters.


A sage grouse male at a lek, an area where grouse congregate in the spring to court mates, in eastern Montana.
Donald M. Jones/Minden Pictures

Last week, the Biden administration announced that it was considering restoring protections for the imperiled sage grouse. The portly bird, which is about the size of a chicken, is an indicator species for the health of the sagebrush steppe — an equally threatened ecosystem that has been fragmented across the Western United States and Canada. And that puts the bird in an unfortunate position: It lives on public land that is highly coveted by the oil and gas industry.  

During the Trump administration, when former oil and gas lobbyist David Bernhardt was appointed Secretary of Interior, millions of acres of sage grouse protections were severely cut—a move that has faced challenges in federal court. But other things besides energy development threaten the sagebrush ecosystem, including increasing urbanization and the encroachment of non-native grasses, which more easily spread wildfire. 


Updated protections could undo the rollbacks and begin a new process for preserving critical habitat, says Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities. “If we don't do something, the impact is not just on the sage grouse, it is on other wildlife species and the landscape of the West,” she said. “It is critical that the Biden administration does this.”

Below, a few numbers explain why the Biden administration is considering whether to revamp protections: 

The number of U.S. states where sage grouse populations can be found. All of them are in the West.

The number of times since 1999 that conservationists have filed petitions to legally protect sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided the bird did not need listing due to an “unprecedented level” of conservation effort.  

Percentage of historical sagebrush habitat left. 

Estimated number of plant and animal species that live in the sagebrush ecosystem. 

Percentage of rangewide decline of the sage grouse since 1965.

Percentage of all federal oil and gas leases overlapping sage grouse habitat and owned by fossil fuel companies with ties to former Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, according to the Center for Western Priorities. 

Number of acres these leases comprise.  

The number of policy actions the Interior Department has moved forward with that were supported or requested by Bernhardt’s former clients. 

The percentage of Westerners that think loss of habitat for fish and wildlife is a serious problem in their state, according to a Colorado College poll.

The percentage of Westerners who support restoring limits on industrial activities that threaten wildlife on public land, according to the same poll.  

Percentage of Wyoming residents who agree. 

Theo Whitcomb is an editorial intern at High Country News. We welcome reader letters. Email him at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor. See our letters to the editor policy.