sage grouse

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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By contributing your comment, you consent to the possibility of having it read on the air. 

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.

Office of the Governor

People in Wyoming are passionate about wildlife. Just say the word “wolf” in mixed company and see what happens. And it’s the state’s long history of negotiating with the federal government over endangered species like the sage grouse and the grizzly that has prompted Governor Matt Mead this month to announce an initiative to reform the 42-year-old Endangered Species Act. I asked him, what made him decide now was the time for this.

Wikimedia Commons

After a plummet in sage grouse numbers two years ago, a new report shows signs that the bird is starting to rebound a bit. The Western Alliance of Fish and Wildlife Agencies conducted the study with the help of Cheyenne-based consultants WEST.

It shows that sage grouse have been declining in numbers by almost a full percentage point every year since the study began in 1965. But the group’s Sage Grouse coordinator, San Stiver says, in the last two years, that decline has slowed.

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.

Flickr Creative Commons

After months of public debate, Governor Mead released a revision of his so-called sage grouse executive order. The plan is required to undergo review every five years.

Brian Rutledge is Vice President of the National Audubon Society and served on the governor’s sage grouse team. He says he’s happy with how many of the team’s recommendations the Governor incorporated in the revision.

Steve Fairbairn / USFWS

Last month, the Bureau of Land Management rolled out several new landscape vision plans that will shape public land protections in the West for the next two decades. But some conservation groups--including the Sierra Club and Western Watersheds Project--say these plans don’t use strict enough science to stop the extinction of the greater sage grouse.

Wildlife biologist Erik Molvar with WildEarth Guardians says that’s why his group decided to join forces in filing an administrative protest against those federal plans.

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.

Ben Ramsey

A Pinedale high school teacher used math to teach kids about the importance of sage grouse conservation last week. Cami Dudrey’s Algebra I class collaborated with the Wyoming Wildlife Foundation to solve real world math problems related to putting reflective tags along fences in a critical sage grouse breeding area outside Pinedale.

“Kids don’t see the application of math ever. The most common question I get is when are we ever going to use this?” Dudrey says. “Math’s everywhere. So just finding something to apply any type of math to helps the students connect.”

Bob Beck

Secretary of Interior Sally Jewel came to Cheyenne to announce a massive plan to conserve Sage Grouse habitat in several western states. Wyoming started its own conservation efforts in 2007 and Jewel says it is a model state. The question is whether the federal efforts can keep the Sage Grouse from being placed on the endangered species list. 

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.

Some landowners are expressing concern about how expanded sage grouse protections could affect their private property rights. At a state sage grouse meeting last week in Douglas, two ranchers requested that their property be removed from the grouse’s current protected areas or be left out of proposed additions.

Last week, Utah representative Rob Bishop added a rider to the National Defense Authorization Act that would delay the listing of the greater sage grouse as an endangered species. The bill says listing the bird could endanger the country by placing restrictions  on how military property can be used. 

Jeannie Stafford/USFWS

Do you think the governor should expand the protected habitat of sage grouse in his core area strategy, which is up for review this year?

For more information, see the Wyoming Public Radio story, Deadline Looms For Governor's Sage Grouse Plan.

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Flickr Creative Commons

A report commissioned by Pew Charitable Trusts predicts that sage grouse will be extinct in 100 years and could be gone from the Powder River Basin in 30 years, if their decline continues at its current rate. The Garton report, as it’s known, was released last week in the “Environment and Energy Daily,” an online magazine. Wyoming Sage Grouse Coordinator Tom Christiansen says he has concerns with the study--not the method or the analysis, but its conclusion that conservation efforts aren’t working.

Jeannie Stafford/USFWS & US Energy Dept

A chicken-sized game bird native to western sagebrush has become the subject of the biggest conservation project in U.S. history.

Efforts to keep the greater sage grouse off the endangered species list stretch across 11 states from North Dakota to California. It is a complex balancing act between saving critical ecosystems while at the same time protecting the region’s key industries.

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.”

The clock is ticking for Governor Mead and his sage grouse team. They have a September deadline to re-evaluate their so-called Core Area Strategy that would slow the bird’s declining population so the U.S. Fish and Wildlife doesn’t list it as an endangered species.

Wyoming is now home to the largest conservation bank in the country. The conservation bank program allows private landowners to permanently protect a critical habitat area in exchange for credits that can be sold to developers who plan to disturb critical habitat elsewhere.

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell has fired back at a federal provision banning the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from placing the sage grouse on the endangered species list for one year. The provision was a rider in the omnibus spending bill, passed last month.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department says that Sage grouse chick production was unusually high this year.

The agency has discovered that grouse hens had more chicks this year than usual, over two per hen.  That’s over double from last year.

Chief Game Warden Brian Nesnik says hunters submit wings of grouse they harvest to the department for analysis.  That’s how they determine what is happening with the bird.

Wednesday is the deadline for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to decide whether or not to list the Gunnison Sage Grouse, a sub-species that’s struggling in Colorado and Utah, under the Endangered Species Act.