greater sage grouse

Cooper McKim/WPR

On an overcast day, an old golden retriever named Ruby walks around the edge of a warehouse in Casper. She’s stops and looks out, standing in the square light where a truck might pull in. Behind her is a large room stacked high with boxes full of rock, some of which have gold inside.

This warehouse is home to GFG (Go For Gold) Resources, a Canadian company that set up camp in Casper back in 2015. They explore and drill for gold out in the Rattlesnake Hills – a unique geologic region in the center of Wyoming. The company’s project area is 33,500 acres.

BLM Scoping Meeting at the Little America Hotel in Cheyenne
Cooper McKim/Wyoming Public Radio

The state Bureau of Land Management held its first public meeting Monday, November 6, to discuss current sage grouse management plans and potential changes to them.

This “scoping” meeting was held as an open house at the Little America Hotel in Cheyenne. Posters were spread throughout a conference room discussing adaptive management, livestock grazing, resource management plans and more. Specialists were also on hand at each station to help answer any questions.

The BLM explains the purpose of the scoping meeting on their website:

A male Sage Grouse (also known as the Greater Sage Grouse) in the USA
Pacific Southwest Region U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Wyoming’s Bureau of Land Management office is holding two public meetings this week to discuss sage grouse management plan changes. 

Cooper McKim

  

Energy companies, environmentalists, ranchers and government officials are getting back together at meetings across the West this fall to talk about the fate of a chicken-like bird.

 

Many of these so-called stakeholders have sat at this table before. The well-being of the Greater Sage Grouse was the focus of a hard-fought compromise among 11 states, finalized a few years ago.

 

Sage Grouse Implementation Team meeting, 09/15/17
Cooper McKim / Wyoming Public Radio

The sage grouse implementation team met for the first time since the Department of Interior announced recommendations to a collaborative state and federal Obama era plan. But early last month, DOI Secretary Ryan Zinke recommended changes to the plan that would loosen restrictions on energy development while giving states more flexibility in implementing their own sage grouse protection plans.

A greater sage-grouse male struts for a female at a lek (dancing or mating ground) near Bridgeport, CA
Jeannie Stafford / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Wyoming Governor Matt Mead is concerned about the Interior Department’s recommendations to the sage grouse conservation plans. The federal agency released a report this week outlining recommendations to the 2015 plan, including giving states more leniency in enforcing the rules and changing the focus from habitat management to population goals.

A male Sage Grouse (also known as the Greater Sage Grouse) in the USA
Pacific Southwest Region U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from Sacramento, US

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced plans to make fundamental changes to a sage grouse conservation plan adopted under the Obama administration. They could make it easier for ranchers and energy companies to move into sagebrush habitat that’s now off limits. 

Tom Koerner/USFWS

A new report called “The Sage Grouse White Papers” released last month by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies shows that captive breeding methods have a long way to go before they can help bring up sage grouse numbers.

Bureau of Land Management / Flickr

The Bureau of Land Management has released new documents to guide its sage grouse protection strategy. Last year, the agency announced new sage grouse management plans covering more than 60 million acres across 10 states. Those plans were a major factor in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision not to list the bird as endangered, but they didn't include many details about how the protections would actually be implemented.

nature.org

Last week, President Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum to slow down the loss of wildlife habitat to human development. Governor Mead’s Natural Resources Policy Advisor, Jeremiah Reiman says the memo took Western states by surprise. 

“We do share frustration that it was developed without input from many of us.”

But he does hope the feds borrow from Wyoming’s approach to the greater sage grouse, which didn’t just seek to protect the bird, but its entire habitat.

Wikimedia Commons

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department is monitoring Sage Grouse for signs of West Nile Virus. The disease, carried by mosquitos, has a high mortality rate for the bird.

Tom Christiansen, the Department’s Sage Grouse Program Director, says keeping tabs on what kills Sage Grouse is always important, but it’s crucial as the September Deadline approaches for federal officials to decide whether to list Sage Grouse as endangered.

Conservation groups are expressing huge concern over the proposed Bureau of Land Management proposed resource management plan for the Powder River Basin.  

The plan authorizes 10 billion tons of coal production along with oil and gas development. With concern being expressed over Sage Grouse habitat, some conservation groups thought the BLM would proposed reduced energy development.

BLM Director Neil Kornze said last week during a trip to Cheyenne that Sage Grouse will be monitored and that the declining coal market will take care of a lot of the carbon dioxide concerns.

Bob Beck / Wyoming Public Radio

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has unveiled several new federal plans for western states to preserve the habitat for the Greater Sage Grouse in an effort to keep the bird from being added to the endangered species list. The plans would keep energy development from occurring in sensitive areas.

Wyoming PBS will air a program tonight that will examine the challenges facing the sage grouse that may land the bird on the endangered species act this year. 

Called The Sagebrush Sea, the program will take a close look at why sage grouse numbers are in decline. Producer Marc Dantzler says he has been impressed by efforts made by the state of Wyoming to improve conditions for the sage grouse, but he says the bird’s condition in other states could cause it to be listed.

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.

Melodie Edwards

When people think of ravens, they often think Edgar Allen Poe: