More drilling could eradicate Powder River Basin sage grouse, report finds

Mar 22, 2012

A new report commissioned by the BLM warns that unless energy development in the Powder River Basin slows down, sage grouse populations there could die out.

Dave Naugle of the University of Montana co-authored the report. He says the sage grouse population in the Powder River Basin has already declined by 82 percent as a result of oil and gas drilling, and he says a disease outbreak similar to recent West Nile Virus occurrences could mean that fewer than 100 males would be left. That, Naugle says, “would functionally mean that that population could go extinct. ”

He says it’s crucial to restore habitat around plugged and abandoned wells – and soon.

“It’s a lot easier to bolster sage grouse populations when there are still some individuals left in the population,” Naugle said. “When they’re all gone, doing a complete and total restoration of a population – the chances of success are very low.”

He added that the fate of the sage grouse in the Powder River Basin also hinges on whether or not the BLM decides to drill more wells there.