endangered species

Bob Beck


Last weekend Wyoming’s annual sage grouse hunt began. Many hunters were worried that this could be the last hunt in a while, since the bird was facing the possibility of getting listed as an endangered species. When the chicken-sized bird started seeing declines in the 1990’s, some states stopped sage grouse hunting altogether. Wyoming continued its hunt after changing the start date and limiting the take. That will continue, even as the state continues mandated conservation efforts. 

Melodie Edwards


You might have heard a strange sound this last Tuesday morning around 10 a.m. It was a sigh of relief from ranchers, oil and gas workers and miners all over the West at the announcement that the greater sage grouse won't be listed as an endangered species. But you probably also heard the slapping of foreheads from wildlife advocates who say the grouse needs full federal protections if it’s going to survive.

In Tuesday’s announcement that the greater sage grouse will not be listed as an endangered species, the state of Wyoming got a lot of the credit by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Director Dan Ashe who said the state's strategy for bringing the bird back from the brink showed long range vision.

“I have to point out singularly the leadership from the state of Wyoming in designing the Core Area Strategy back in 2008. Because it was Wyoming’s leadership that showed us what was possible for sage grouse conservation.”

Ladder Ranch

Wyoming Ranchers are among those who are pleased with the U.S. Department of the Interior’s decision not to list the Greater Sage Grouse as an endangered species.

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said in her announcement that one of the main reasons the bird wasn’t listed was the cooperation among individuals, industry, and government in conservation efforts.

Pat O’toole runs the Ladder Ranch in Savery, Wyoming. He says his ranch took several steps to help Sage Grouse – from putting land in conservation easements to creating more sage brush habitat.

Wikimedia Commons

With the decision not to list sage grouse as an endangered species, a new federal report says the current approach is effectively isolating the birds from each other like animals in a zoo.

U.S. Geological Survey ecologist Steven Knick worked on the report, and he says many of the sage grouse protected areas are like small islands scattered around the 11 Western states of its range.

Katrina Roberts

What do you think about the decision to keep the sage grouse off the endangered species list, allowing western states to continue to manage the birds? 

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The Modern West #4: The Good, The Bad, And The Endangered

Sep 14, 2015
Jeannie Stafford / USFWS


Wyoming’s human population is low—and its animal population is high. But that doesn’t mean they don’t clash. This month: endangered species in The Modern West.

Governor Matt Mead released his plan for Sage Grouse conservation in Wyoming earlier this month, but September’s federal deadline to decide on endangered species listing is rapidly approaching. Scientists across the west are now engaged in a discussion of whether or not states are doing enough to adequately protect the bird’s numbers.

An upcoming panel at the University of Wyoming will attempt to address some of those issues.

Wikimedia Commons

Cecil the lion was a favorite and well-known animal in the Zimbabwe Hwange National Park. Earlier this month he was killed by an American hunter and once the internet found out, it wanted justice. Now, a debate is raging on social media over big-game trophy hunting – both illegal and legal. Wyoming doesn’t have African Lions, but it does have mountain lions, elk, moose, bears, and a good number of big-game hunters. Renny MacKay is communications director for Wyoming Game and Fish.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Polar bears are one of the species that’s been hardest hit by climate change. But scientists have long thought the bears might be capable of effectively hibernating in summer, to save energy during a longer open water season. New research from the University of Wyoming disproves that hypothesis though. Merav Ben David is a professor of wildlife ecology and one of the authors of the new study. She told Wyoming Public Radio’s Stephanie Joyce that without hibernation, it’s an increasingly long and hungry summer for the bears.


Yellowstone’s grizzlies are unique in the world of bears. That’s according to a grizzly expert scheduled to speak in Jackson this week.

Yale wildlife biologist Dave Mattson spent 13 years in the field studying Yellowstone grizzlies. He says Yellowstone bears eat things like earthworms, pond weeds and pine seeds that no other grizzlies in the world do. And that’s not all.   


A plague vaccine might help bring one of the most endangered mammals in North America back to Northwest Wyoming where they were discovered. Black Footed Ferrets may be restored to the Pitchfork Ranch near Meeteetse, because their food, prairie dogs, are coming back.

Ben Ramsey

In the small town of Pinedale, people have a lot of opinions about sage grouse. That’s because Pinedale just happens to sit in the middle of some of the best sage grouse habitat in the state. It’s also in the middle of some of the best oil and gas fields in the country. So when a Pinedale math teacher joined forces with a sage grouse conservation project, it started a community conversation.

Department Of Wildlife

It’s been five years since Governor Matt Mead signed an executive order giving special protections to the state’s greater sage grouse populations. Now that order says it’s time to re-evaluate the plan and make sure it’s actually doing its job. The goal is to convince the U.S. Fish and Wildlife not to list the grouse as an endangered species come September 30.

At a public meeting this week in Buffalo, the state’s sage grouse team heard ideas for increasing the Powder River Basin grouse populations. A new Pew Charitable Trust report shows that the area’s sage grouse are close to extinction with a 98 percent chance that in 30 years there will be less than 50 birds left there. Wildlife biologist Erik Molvar with the environmental group WildEarth Guardians says the coalbed methane industry played a role in the decline.


After lengthy discussions, Jonah Energy has agreed to hold off on plans to drill some 3500 gas wells near Pinedale until an environmental impact statement is complete.

Governor Mead’s Sage Grouse Implementation Team could not reach a consensus on Tuesday on whether to include the area—known as the NPL or Normally Pressurized Lance—as protected habitat. Wyoming Game and Fish sage grouse coordinator Tom Christiansen says, the team didn't agree on whether or not to adopt the area into the grouse's core area habitat.

The Western Governor’s Association has released a special report outlining numerous programs Wyoming and other western states have adopted to stop the rapid decline of the greater sage grouse. But Wildlife Biologist Erik Molvar with WildEarth Guardians says sage grouse numbers have been plummeting and it’s going to take more than local, voluntary efforts to turn things around.

“It’s going to require range-wide commitments to science-based protections that are mandatory.”

USFWS Mountain-Prairie / Flickr

The endangered Wyoming Toad’s population numbers could get a boost from a new plan from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Wyoming Toad is the most endangered amphibian in North American, and lives only in Albany County.

The toad’s numbers started decreasing in the 1970s, for reasons mostly unknown. Now, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed a plan that would allow landowners in key habitat areas to either sell their land to the agency, or forfeit future development rights to their land in return for financial reimbursement and habitat monitoring.

Last month, Wyoming’s wolves were put back on the Endangered Species list, after a court ruled that the state’s management plan was inadequate. It’s the latest battle in a long-running conflict over wolf management in the West. Author Nick Jans has been following that conflict for decades and jumped into the fray earlier this year with his new book, titled “A Wolf Called Romeo.” As he told Wyoming Public Radio’s Caroline Ballard, he wasn’t always a wolf advocate.

Wikimedia Commons

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has designated the Canada lynx as threatened with extinction in the Continental United States. It has also reduced its critical habitat.

The Canada lynx is one of the few native cats in North America. Its habitat is specific to thick boreal forests that accumulate deep snow and are home to the lynx’s favorite food, snowshoe hare. It has enormous paws that it uses to traverse deep snow and elude predators with smaller feet. 

With winds and low precipitation causing fire danger to escalate in rangelands around the state, the Bureau of Land Management is keeping a close eye on sage grouse habitat. Senior Resource Advisor Pam Murdock says they’re working hard to control the fires.

"I know that there are a few going on currently," she says. "We have one, I was just informed of yesterday, that did get ignited over the weekend that was in sage grouse core area up in the Bighorn Basin."

She says it isn't easy juggling conflicting priorities. 


The clock is ticking about whether to list the greater sage grouse as an endangered species.  Such a listing could all but shut down mineral development in the bird’s habitat.  The state has already tackled sage grouse protections.  Now it’s the federal government’s turn.  It’s been 30 years since the Lander Resource Management Plan was revised.  And so the Bureau of Land Management took the opportunity to put more protections in place for the grouse while they were at it. 

The Lander Resource Management Plan is hundreds of pages and covers a lot of ground. 

Willow Belden

When energy development happens on public lands, companies have to reclaim the land. That means restoring the landscape after it’s been disturbed. But exactly what’s required varies from one part of the state to another. Wyoming Public Radio’s Willow Belden reports that agencies are making those rules more consistent, in hopes of helping keep sage grouse off the endangered species list.

The Wyoming Supreme Court must decide whether Gov. Matt Mead was justified in withholding documents regarding grizzly bear management.

Grizzly activist Robert Aland has appealed a recent district court ruling that Mead was justified in withholding records.

Aland had asked Mead for records supporting his contention that the state's grizzly population is healthy enough that federal Endangered Species Act protections are no longer needed.

New report seeks to help states protect sage grouse

Mar 29, 2013

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a report that’s meant to help states figure out how to protect sage grouse and keep them off the endangered species list. 

Bob Budd with the Wyoming Wildlife Natural Resource Trust helped put the report together. He says the document provides information about the key threats to sage grouse, but leaves it up to states to develop or revise their conservation plans.

Various ecological groups in the Rocky Mountain region have joined together to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to list the boreal toad as endangered.

Once populating much of the coniferous forests of the Western United States, the boreal toad’s numbers have plummeted in the last two decades. Currently, the amphibian is only found in 1% of its original breeding area in the Southern Rockies.

Wolf hunting season ends

Dec 31, 2012

Wyoming's wolf hunting season ends today.

Hunters are allowed to kill a total of 52 wolves ... but as of Friday afternoon, they had taken only 43.

It's Wyoming's first wolf hunting season since the federal government reintroduced wolves to the Yellowstone ecosystem in the 1990s.

Besides those taken during hunting season, 25 wolves have been killed around Wyoming this year because they were considered predators.