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Grouseonomics: The imperiled greater sage grouse, by the numbers

Economic and ecological impacts of the bird in Western states.


By now, every Westerner knows that the Strutter of the Sage, the greater sage grouse, may be flapping its way toward eventual extinction. As its habitat gets nibbled away by industry, housing and agriculture, the chicken-sized bird finds its numbers dwindling accordingly. And as goes the grouse, so goes the rest of the Sagebrush Sea and all its wild denizens.

A sage grouse on a lek in Central Oregon.

This fall, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will decide if the sage grouse should be added to the endangered species list. If the bird is listed, protections for it will most likely result in major restrictions on growth and energy development. That possibility has catalyzed huge cooperative conservation efforts across every state where the grouse is found (Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, California, Colorado and the Dakotas), with partners including federal and state agencies, local governments, landowners, tribes and energy companies.

Here's a set of numbers by which to better understand the bird and its impact on the West, extracted from research for an HCN cover feature (coming in August) on sage grouse.

A sagebrush cicada. These insects depend on the sagebrush for their lifecycle, from larval to adult.

Minimum number of other bird and mammal species that also rely on sagebrush steppe habitat

Minimum number of insect species found on one 250-acre tract of Idaho sagebrush

Number of different foods that sage grouse eat during winter months (sagebrush)

Year that Fish and Wildlife Service determined that greater sage grouse should be on the endangered species list, but that other species had higher priority

Minimum square miles of the West that are covered by sagebrush steppe today

Minimum square miles historically covered

Estimated number of sage grouse remaining

Estimated historic number of sage grouse

Percent of sage grouse habitat on public land managed by the BLM and Forest Service

Percent of jobs, primarily tourism and outdoor recreation, that depend on sagebrush ecosystem, in parts of Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Wyoming 1

Percent of jobs in Wyoming that depend on oil and gas development

Estimated annual amount of economic output (in dollars) that would be lost if the bird was listed as endangered 2

Estimated annual economic contribution (in dollars) made by visitors to BLM sagebrush lands 3

Estimated total (in dollars) spent by Natural Resources Conservation Service and partners on West-wide grouse conservation efforts 6

Estimated total (in dollars) spent on construction of AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants

3 – 5
Width of buffer, in miles, around sage grouse breeding grounds (leks) where no human disturbance should occur, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service

Percent by which number of breeding male grouse across entire range dropped between 2007 and 2013 4

Number of female grouse that may mate with a single chosen male on one morning

Percent of total greater sage grouse population found in Wyoming

Percent of Wyoming’s sage grouse that could be lost, long-term, to residential and oil and gas development, without conservation measures in place 5

6 – 15
Percent of Wyoming’s sage grouse that could be lost, long-term, to residential and oil and gas development under state’s sage grouse conservation plan 5

The Fish and Wildlife Service will announce its decision on listing the grouse by September 30, 2015. Congressional Republicans have been trying to delay that decision with various riders and bills; none have succeeded so far, but expect those efforts to continue. Also see these earlier HCN stories:


Jodi Peterson is a senior editor at High Country News.