sage grouse

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

A new report says decisions on endangered species are undercut by politics. That’s according to the Endangered Species Coalition based in Washington D.C. The report concentrates on ten fish, plant and wildlife conservation decisions where they say science was ignored or suppressed.

 

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. 

Western Values Project

A Montana-based environmental watchdog group is hoping to uncover e-mails from energy lobbyists and the Interior Department.

The Western Values Project is concerned coordination between the federal land management agency and representatives from the energy industry resulted in proposed changes to the sage grouse management plans.  

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

The Interior Department is expected to take its first tangible step in making large changes to sage grouse management plans. Ninety-eight of these plans were established in 2015 across 10 western states. They came after more than a decade of collaboration in hopes of avoiding an endangered species listing for the chicken-like bird.

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 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

The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission has approved a regulation that would allow captive breeding of greater sage grouse in the state. The law would allow specially licensed private farms to possess, breed, and sell the bird.

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.

Tom Koerner/USFWS

In the last legislative session, lawmakers tasked the Wyoming Game and Fish Department with setting up guidelines for how private game bird farms can raise sage grouse. Under the rules, such farms could collect 250 sage grouse eggs to raise and release into the wild. The Sage Grouse Implementation Team appointed by Governor Matt Mead is reviewing those rules over the next couple of weeks. 

Zachary Wheeler

Wildlife advocates are among those concerned about the presidential executive order to reverse the Clean Power Act and lift a moratorium on new coal leases. The National Wildlife Federation says migrating mule deer and pronghorn are suffering from the effects of energy development and benefited from federal regulations of the industry. 

Tribal Partnerships Director Garrit Voggesser says market forces will likely limit how many coal jobs actually return to Wyoming, but he says dwindling wildlife will hurt the state’s economy.

Stephanie Joyce / Wyoming Public Radio

The Obama administration has released five options for making about 10 million acres of federal sagebrush habitat ineligible for new mining leases in the West in hopes of protecting the imperiled greater sage grouse.

Wikimedia Commons

An updated mitigation policy from the Bureau of Land Management will address inconsistent rules that once created problems for companies trying to operate in western states. Mitigation rules, or how companies are required to lessen or offset negative environmental effects they might cause on public land, will now be the same for all public land.

Eric Holst is the Associate Vice President at the Environmental Defense Fund. He said public land should be able to support both wildlife and energy development, and the new policy addresses the need to create such a balance.

Bureau of Land Management / Flickr

Wyoming Republicans were dealt a setback in their efforts to keep sage grouse off the federal endangered species list.

House Republicans were able to include a provision in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act that would prohibit the federal government from changing the conservation status of sage grouse for the next decade. But the provision was left out of the final bill when House leaders negotiated a final bill with their Senate counterparts. That didn’t sit well with members of the lower chamber.

Cynthia Lummis

Environmentalists around the West are looking hard at what a Trump administration means for issues like wildlife conservation and federal land takeovers.

National Wildlife Federation President Collin O’Mara said, on the campaign trail, Donald Trump and his son, Donald Trump Junior, both expressed disapproval for the idea of putting federal lands in state control.

Jeannie Stafford / USFWS

A new scientific study suggests as wildfires become more frequent, sage grouse populations in the West will decline because of a loss of habitat. 

The study was published in the scientific journal PNAS and shows that if sagebrush continues to burn at the rate it has in recent decades, sage grouse populations will be halved in 30 years. 

Wikimedia Commons

The number of sage grouse in Wyoming increased for the third year in a row, according the latest Wyoming Game and Fish Department survey. According to Sage Grouse Program Coordinator Tom Christiansen numbers increased this year by 16 percent.

Last year, they grew 66% but that's because Wyoming's sage grouse count fell so sharply in 2012. The bird was even under consideration to be listed as an endangered species. But this year has been wet, which has meant more food for chicks and more cover from predators.

Wikimedia Commons

Last fall, many groups celebrated when the federal government decided not to list the sage grouse as an endangered species and rolled out plans to ensure the bird’s populations didn’t continue to dwindle. But now a group of wildlife advocacy organizations is suing the federal government for not making those plans strong enough. 

Tom Koerner

A first-of-its-kind study shows that wind farms do have a slight effect on the nesting and chick raising of female sage grouse. The six-year study was recently completed by Western Ecosystem Technology (WEST), a research firm in Laramie. Biologist Chad LeBeau says that the wind turbines didn’t effect where female sage grouse chose to build nests, but once chicks hatched, they did tend to move farther away from them.

Environmental advocates are celebrating this week after Congress passed a bipartisan spending bill that at one point included several provisions blocking conservation efforts.

After much talk of letting it lapse, the 50-year-old Land and Water Conservation Fund was re-authorized to fund city parks and national park in-holdings. It also gave a 6% increase to federal land management agencies, a total of over $32 billion.

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.

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